Bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.6 percent of the US adult population according to medical statistics. It is a chronic brain disorder that causes extreme and unpredictable shifts in mood, accompanied by changes in energy and ability to function.
These shifts in mood often alternate between periods of mania and depression, with symptom-free periods in between. It is important to note that these changes can have a significant effect on overall functioning in everyday life.
Although bipolar disorder is complex and variable, it is generally classified into two primary categories: bipolar I and bipolar II disorder. And while both share some similarities, they also have some distinct differences.
Bipolar I is the more severe form of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by episodes of mania that last at least seven days at a time or are so severe that hospitalization is necessary. Mania is a state of elevated, euphoric, or irritable mood, often accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- Increased energy levels
- Decreased need for sleep
- Grandiosity or inflated self-esteem
- Racing thoughts or rapid speech
- Increased involvement in risky or self-destructive behaviors, such as gambling, excessive substance use, or driving under the influence
In addition to manic episodes, people with bipolar I also experience depressive episodes. These episodes tend to last at least two weeks and include symptoms such as:
- Persistence, sadness, or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other fun activities
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Social isolation
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Bipolar II is a milder form of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar II experience depressive episodes similar to those experienced by people with bipolar I. However, instead of experiencing full-blown manic episodes, they experience hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a milder form of mania that does not cause the same level of impairment as mania.
Because hypomanic episodes are less severe than manic episodes, people with bipolar II usually don’t require hospitalization. However, bipolar II can still cause significant distress and impairment.
Differences Between Bipolar I and Bipolar II
While bipolar I and bipolar II involve episodes of mania and depression, there are some distinctions between the two. These include:
Severity: Bipolar I is more severe than bipolar II. People with bipolar I experience full-blown manic episodes that can be debilitating and require hospitalization. In contrast, people with bipolar II experience hypomanic episodes, which constitute less severe manic symptoms.
Prognosis: People with bipolar I and bipolar II may have different prognoses. While both forms of bipolar disorder are chronic and require ongoing management, people with bipolar I may be at higher risk for more severe mood episodes and often have a harder time stabilizing their mood than those with bipolar II.
Risk of psychosis: People with bipolar I are at higher risk for experiencing psychotic symptoms during manic episodes than people with bipolar II. Psychotic symptoms can include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there).
Treatment: Because bipolar I is often more intense, it often requires more aggressive treatment than bipolar II. For example, people with bipolar I may require hospitalization during manic episodes and may need medications to manage their symptoms. People with bipolar II may be able to manage their symptoms with less intensive treatment, such as therapy or medication.
Bipolar disorder is a complex and often hard-to-treat condition that causes severe impairment. Bipolar I and bipolar II are two of the most commonly diagnosed forms of bipolar disorder. While both involve episodes of mania and depression, they differ in symptom severity.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s advisable to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Remember that with proper treatment and support, it is possible to manage bipolar disorder and lead a productive and fulfilling life despite your diagnosis.