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Glossary of Bipolar Disorder Terms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition. There are many terms to know if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with the condition. To help, we have compiled a list of common terms related to bipolar disorder.

A

Antipsychotics

A powerful class of drugs prescribed for people who have symptoms of psychosis. Signs of psychosis include delusions and hallucinations. These can be symptoms of bipolar mania.1

B

Bipolar 1 disorder (BPD-I)

A type of bipolar disorder that includes alternating episodes of mania and major depression.2

Bipolar 2 disorder (BPD-II)

A type of bipolar disorder that includes more severe or long-lasting episodes of depression along with hypomania.2

Bipolar affective disorder

An outdated term for bipolar disorder.3

Bipolar disorder

A common mental health condition that involves alternating and extreme mood swings.2

Bipolar disorder, other specified or unspecified

A type of bipolar disorder that does not fit other categories and may be caused by certain drugs, alcohol, or medical conditions. Medical conditions that can lead to bipolar symptoms include multiple sclerosis and Cushing’s syndrome.2

Bipolar disorder with psychotic features

A subtype of bipolar disorder where people experience both severe mood swings and episodes of psychosis. During manic or depressive episodes, they may suffer from hallucinations, delusions, or disorganized thinking.

C

Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia

A type of bipolar disorder that features many periods of hypomania along with depression that is milder than that of bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 disorders.2

D

Delusion

A strongly held belief that is not based in reality.1

Depression

A serious mental health condition on its own, and one of the main symptoms of bipolar disorder. Depression usually involves strong negative feelings. It may also lead to a lack of interest in things a person used to enjoy. Depression affects a person’s ability to function in daily life.4

DSM-5

The fifth edition of a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Doctors use this book to guide their diagnoses of all mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder.3

E

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

A medical treatment that may help people with bipolar disorder who have not responded to other treatments. ECT involves a short electrical shock to the brain.5

H

Hallucination

Seeing, hearing, or feeling the sensation of something that is not there.1

Hypomania

A less extreme form of mania.2

M

Mania

A symptom of bipolar disorder in which a person feels extremely happy, confident, full of energy, and/or irritable. Mania may affect the ability to sleep or think clearly. It may also lead to rash and risky behavior.2

Manic depression

An outdated term for bipolar disorder.2

Mixed features

The newer term for what used to be called mixed episodes. People with bipolar disorder are diagnosed with mixed features if they have symptoms of mania and depression at the same time.3

Mood stabilizers

Prescription drugs used to decrease severity of the mood cycles common in people with bipolar disorder. Some common mood stabilizers include lithium and valproate.3

N

Neurotransmitters

Chemical messengers that carry signals from one cell to another. Experts believe the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin do not work properly during bipolar episodes.6

P

Psychiatrists

Doctors who diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional conditions. Because they have a medical degree and license, they are able to prescribe medicines. They often work in conjunction with a therapist or counselor, who provides talk therapy.7

Psychologists

Clinicians who provide therapy for people with mental, emotional, or behavioral conditions. They diagnose mental health conditions but generally do not prescribe medicines.8

Psychosis

Psychosis is a potentially dangerous mental state in which a person has delusions, hallucinations, or otherwise disconnects from reality. The person may not be aware that these beliefs or perceptions are not real.1

Psychotherapy

A treatment that involves processing thoughts and feelings with a trained professional. Also called talk therapy or counseling. People can have therapy sessions alone, with loved ones, or in a group. To treat bipolar disorder, doctors often recommend therapy in combination with medication. There are several different types of psychotherapy. It may be provided by a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or family therapist.7,8

R

Rapid cycling

A pattern in some people with bipolar 1 or bipolar 2 disorder that involves going through 4 or more mood changes a year.3

S

Suicidal ideation

A preoccupation with death. Suicidal ideation is having thoughts of suicide, making plans for suicide, or having a desire to no longer be alive.9

T

Tardive dyskinesia

A condition that causes someone to have repetitive movements against their will. It is a side effect of the long-term use of some antipsychotic drugs.1

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