Diagnosing Bipolar 2 Disorder

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Diagnosis of any bipolar disorder, including bipolar 2, is often difficult, even for seasoned psychiatrists or GPs specialising in mental disorders. Some people who suffer from this illness do not get a proper diagnosis even 10 years after first seeking help.

Much of the confusion in diagnosis is attributable to the fact that many patients only see a doctor when they experiencing a depression phase; rarely do those in the throes of mania see it as a problem requiring medical intervention. Manic episodes are the key factor in distinguishing bipolar disorder from unipolar depression; hypomania is the difference between the categories of bipolar I and bipolar II recognised by the DSM-IV. The danger in misdiagnosis is that the patient will not receive proper treatment.

The Doctor Appointment

If you suspect you may be suffering from bipolar 2 disorder, begin by being honest with your GP about all the mood swings you have experienced – both the highs and the lows. Ensure that you accurately describe each to the best of your ability.

At this point your doctor will probably send you for further testing at a hospital or clinic which contains a mental health unit. An expert at the hospital may be a psychiatrist, community psychiatric nurse, or psychologist. Testing begins with a questionnaire regarding your history of depressive and/or manic events.

While there is no simple blood test which can determine if someone has bipolar disorder, other medical tests or scans may be ordered which could uncover conditions related to the illness. Since many who suffer from bipolar II disorder are substance abusers, the doctor may order a drug test, as well. Any illegal drugs can interfere with medical treatment, so this is an important step in diagnosis.

A psychiatric examination is considered the most reliable form of diagnosis. A mental state examination will explore such areas as the way you speak, your energy levels; gauge your mood, thought processes, beliefs, and general looks and behaviour. A psychiatrist will also want to delve into your history of mood swings and determine how often they have occurred as well as how long each lasted. He or she will try to make a connection between how these phases of highs and lows have affected your life as far as relationships and employment. Sometimes a medical professional will want to consult with family members or friends as well.

People are diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they show evidence of experiencing at least one depressive episode followed by one or more phases of mania. In bipolar I disorder, mania is often accompanied by psychosis (hallucinations and delusions). In bipolar II disorder, the high episodes are referred to as hypomania as they are less severe.

After diagnosis treatment, usually medication can begin. Rather than dread a diagnosis, it should be embraced as a way to receive the proper treatment and begin enjoying a full life once again.

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