Bipolar Disorder vs. Schizophrenia

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

There are two types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder has a number of types, including bipolar I and bipolar II disorder. Depending on how rapidly the mood swings occur, the episodes of bipolar disorder can also be described as having mixed (mood disordered episodes that last less than the usual amount of time required for the diagnosis) features or rapid cycling (four or more mood disordered episodes per year) features. About two-fifths of people with bipolar disorder have at least one period of rapid cycling over the course of their lifetime. For every type and duration of the illness, the sufferer experiences significant problems with his or her functioning at school, at work, socially or otherwise in their community, may need hospitalization, or may have psychotic symptoms (for example, delusions or hallucinations). The diagnosis of bipolar I disorder requires that the individual has at least one manic episode but does not require a history of major depression. Bipolar II disorder is diagnosed if the person has experienced at least one episode of major depression and at least one episode of hypomania (a milder form of mania).

Bipolar disorder vs. schizophrenia facts

  • Bipolar disorder is an illness that involves mood swings with at least one episode of mania and may also involve repeated episodes of depression.
  • Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, debilitating mental illness characterized by psychotic symptoms, meaning that one is out of touch with reality.
  • Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are not directly inherited genetically but are likely due to complex genetic, psychological, and environmental risk factors.
  • Since there is no one test that determines the presence of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, health care professionals diagnose these illnesses by gathering medical, family, and mental health information and performing physical and mental assessments.
  • Medication treatment of bipolar disorder tends to relieve already existing symptoms of mania or depression and prevent symptoms from returning. Antipsychotic medications are most effective in decreasing the positive symptoms of schizophrenia.
  • Psychosocial interventions help treat both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

What is bipolar disorder? What is schizophrenia?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that involves severe mood swings, at least one episode of mania (an exaggerated or heightened mood, see below) and may include repeated episodes of depression. It is a mood disorder that afflicts up to as many as 4 million people. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, debilitating mental illness that involves psychotic symptoms, meaning that one is out of touch with reality. People with either illness are at a higher risk of suicide, substance abuse, and other mental health problems.

What are causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia?

Like most mental disorders, neither bipolar disorder nor schizophrenia is directly passed down genetically. Rather, each is the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. These two illnesses share a number of the same risk genes but also have some unique genetic risk factors. Stress has been found to be a significant contributor to the development of most mental health conditions, including both of these disorders.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/18/2017

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