How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder is diagnosed by a trained mental health professional after a complete diagnostic evaluation. While a general practice physician may notice symptoms and suspect a diagnosis of bipolar, it is best to be seen by someone with expertise in the field of mental health for a final diagnosis.

Although there is not yet a way to diagnose bipolar disorder through a blood test or brain imaging, these tests are sometimes done as part of the diagnosis in order to rule out other medical conditions that might cause similar symptoms. If no other illnesses are found, bipolar disorder can be diagnosed based upon symptoms, course of illness, and family history. Most doctors, especially in the United States, will make a diagnosis based on the criteria laid out in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM).

In general, people with bipolar disorder more often seek help when they are in a depressive phase of the illness, so it is important to gather a complete history in order to make an accurate diagnosis. People with bipolar disorder can be mistakenly diagnosed with major depression if they don’t present with symptoms of mania or hypomania and don’t provide a full medical history indicating they have experienced manic episodes in the past. When possible, input from family and friends can help the mental health professional arrive at the correct diagnosis.

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