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Bipolar 1 disorder vs Bipolar 2 disorder

Understanding bipolar disorder

When people think of Bipolar Disorder, many of them think of rapid mood changes. However, depending on the symptoms an individual experiences, there are several different categories of mood disorders; and not all of these categories include the lows of depression and the highs of mania. It can take several years of observation to get an accurate diagnosis, and only a medical health professional or a doctor can provide a diagnosis for a mood disorder.

From time to time, most people have emotional ups and downs. But if your feelings can reach abnormally high or low levels, you can have a mental health condition called Bipolar Disorder. Sometimes, you may feel immensely energetic or excited while you may find yourself sinking into depression at other times. Some of these emotional crests and troughs could last for weeks and months.

Types of bipolar disorders

  1. Bipolar 1 disorder

  2. Bipolar 2 disorder

  3. Cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia)

  4. Other specified/unspecified bipolar and related disorders.

The types that are more common than the other types of bipolar disorder are Bipolar 1 disorder and bipolar two disorder. Read on to learn about their similarities and differences.

Bipolar 1 Disorder vs. Bipolar 2 Disorder

Bipolar disorders – of all types – are characterized by episodes of extreme mood. The lows are known as depressive episodes, while the highs are known as manic episodes.

The severity with which an individual experience manic episodes caused by each type is the main difference between Bipolar 1 disorder and bipolar two disorder. While a person with Bipolar 1 disorder will experience a full manic episode, a person with Bipolar 2 disorder will experience only a hypomanic episode. A hypomanic episode is a period that is less severe than a full manic episode. Similarly, a person with Bipolar 2 disorder will experience a major depressive episode, while a person with Bipolar 1 disorder may or may not experience a major depressive episode.

Bipolar 1 Disorder

An individual must have had experienced at least one manic episode to be diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder. Mania is much more severe and extreme than a sudden outburst of motivation, energy, or a happy mood. In some cases, it may even require hospitalization, and often results in problems in work, relationships, and school. One should never assume that a manic episode is not present just because a person doesn’t appear happy or enthusiastic, because a manic episode is also only as often characterized by an irritable mood as an elevated one for people who have Bipolar 1 disorder. People with Bipolar 1 disorder may or may not experience a major depressive episode. A manic episode must include a minimum of three of the following symptoms:

  • Exceptional energy,

  • Restlessness,

  • Having trouble concentrating,

  • Euphoric feeling,

  • Risky behavior,

  • Erratic or poor sleep,

  • Increase in irritability, or goal-directed activity.

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Bipolar 2 Disorder

A person has to have experienced a depressive episode and a less severe form of mania (hypomania) to qualify for a diagnosis of Bipolar 2 Disorder. People with Bipolar 2 Disorder can continue with their day-to-day responsibilities even if they exhibit manic symptoms, and they typically don’t experience manic episodes intense or extreme enough to require hospitalization. Since depressive symptoms may be the primary symptom when the person seeks medical attention, Bipolar 2 Disorder is sometimes misdiagnosed as depression.

The depressive episodes become the focus when there are no manic episodes to suggest bipolar disorder. People affected with Bipolar 2 Disorder also may be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders and substance abuse disorder and are also more likely to have a relative in their immediate family with a psychiatric illness. A person must experience a minimum of 5 or more of the following symptoms listed below to meet the criteria for a depressive episode:

  • Suicidal thoughts,

  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness,

  • Loss of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed,

  • Changes in eating,

  • Changes in sleep,

  • Fatigue or lack of energy,

  • Depressed mood,

  • Restlessness,

  • Indecision or having difficulty concentrating.


It is essential to report all mood symptoms to your doctor since your bipolar disorder diagnosis can impact the course of treatment and medication your doctor recommends. It is imperative to keep track of both highs and lows because treating depression and not mania could increase the risk of a manic episode or suicidal behavior. You may also have to complete detoxification from substances before you are given a diagnosis because drugs and alcohol can trigger episodes of depression and mania.

Keeping track of your attention span, energy level, mood, and behavior can help you receive the most accurate diagnosis. It is possible to manage Bipolar Disorder and live a full and goal-directed life with the right team of support and the right tools for keeping track of your bipolar disorder symptoms.


Image credits: Getty Images

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