Bipolar Disorder - Diagnosis

What tests and assessments led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in you or a relative?

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How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

As is true with virtually any mental health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has bipolar disorder. Therefore, health care professionals diagnose this disease by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental health information. The health care professional will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual's primary care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person's general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental health symptoms.

In asking questions about mental health symptoms, mental health professionals are often exploring if the individual suffers from depression and/or manic symptoms but also anxiety, substance abuse, hallucinations or delusions, as well as some personality and behavioral disorders. Health care professionals may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. Since some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder can also occur in other mental illnesses, the mental health screening is to determine if the individual suffers from bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The examiner also explores whether the person with bipolar disorder suffers from other mental illnesses like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychotic disorders, or a substance abuse, personality, or behavior disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Any disorder that is associated with sudden changes in behavior, mood, or thinking, like a psychotic disorder, borderline personality disorder, or multiple personality disorder (MPD), may be particularly challenging to distinguish from bipolar disorder. In order to assess the person's current emotional state, health care professionals perform a mental status examination as well.

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