Bipolar Disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain which causes extreme mood swings, sometimes so severe that they can affect your ability to function. Bipolar episodes are either manic (high) or depressive (low) episodes.

Bipolar Disorder affects about 5.7 million adults, or 2.6 percent of our population age 18 and older. Bipolar Disorder has two separate classifications: Bipolar I and Bipolar II Disorder.

The classic form of Bipolar Disorder, which involves recurrent episodes of mania and depression, is called Bipolar I Disorder. Some people, however, never develop severe mania but, instead, experience milder episodes of hypomania which alternate with episodes of depression. This form of the disorder is called Bipolar II Disorder.

Hypomania is a mild to moderate level of mania. Hypomania may feel good while you are experiencing it, and you may even associate it with normal to even good functioning and enhanced productivity; however, hypomania is still a symptom of Bipolar II Disorder.

If you are in a hypomanic state, you may even deny that anything is wrong, but without proper treatment, hypomania can lead to severe mania or can switch to a classic depressive episode.

Bipolar Disorder is not curable; however, it is manageable by medication. Other treatments, as well, can help you manage the disorder. These treatments include regular visits to a psychiatrist, therapist and doctor. In addition, self-care techniques such as a healthy diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, etc., can help you manage your Bipolar Disorder.

Between bipolar episodes, most people are free of symptoms. Unfortunately, a small percentage of bipolar patients still experience chronic unremitting symptoms despite treatment. Recent treatment with electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), however, has shown promising improvement in patients during depressive episodes who have not responded to other conventional forms of treatment.

Bipolar II Disorder, like other mental illnesses, cannot yet be diagnosed by using physiological methods—like, for example, through a brain scan or a blood test. Therefore, a person must receive a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder II based on his/her symptoms, the course of the illness, and, whenever possible, family history, as heredity is considered one of the causes of Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar II Disorder diagnostic criteria are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV). Some of the symptoms are listed as follows:

Bipolar II mania symptoms include: racing thoughts, increased energy and activity, restlessness, agitation, irritability, rapid speech, distractibility, decreased need for sleep, poor judgment, increased spending, increased sex drive, excessive euphoria, and risky behavior.

Bipolar II depression symptoms include: increased sad moods, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, decreased sex drive, decreased energy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, decreased appetite, and thoughts of death or suicide.