Bipolar Disorder Tests & Diagnosis

Published: February 1, 2012

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Basic Questions

As part of your routine physical exam, a doctor will ask about your lifestyle, relationships, mood, and professional life. It is important that you answer these questions honestly so that your primary care physician can identify whether you are at risk for mood disorders. The doctor will also ask you questions about your drinking, smoking, and drug habits. Again, you need to answer these questions honestly since drug and alcohol abuse can be both a cause and symptom of bipolar disorder.

Detailed Questions

If you seem to be at risk for bipolar disorder or any sort of mood condition, the doctor will ask additional questions for a more accurate diagnosis. The doctor may need details about your family's health history, especially if mood disorders run in your family.

Be ready to answer these questions ahead of time. Try to keep a log of your mood swings and how long they last. Keep track of how you act and how you feel, and talk to your friends and family about whether they've noticed anything out of character, strange, or unusual. Make sure that you have information about any medications that you are taking, especially birth control pills and antidepressants.

Lab Tests

After asking you a series of questions, the doctor will conduct a blood and urine test to rule out physical explanations for your mood swings. A doctor will typically conduct a blood test to check for thyroid problems and a urine test to monitor drug levels in your system.

The doctor might also test for chronic conditions and sexually transmitted conditions such as syphilis and HIV. An EEG measures brain and nerve function and might be required to exclude epilepsy.

Scans

Some brain injuries and tumors produce symptoms that are similar to bipolar disorder. If there is a medical reason to suspect such a problem, the doctor might order a CT scan or MRI. A specialist will start to treat these types of conditions as soon as possible, and your symptoms will likely stop.

Similar Conditions

A variety of conditions produce symptoms that are similar to bipolar disorder. These include depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and emotional dysregulation. The doctor might ask you whether you have experienced any traumatic or destabilizing events. Bipolar disorder is a challenging condition to diagnose, especially since a variety of conditions can cause problems related to mood, energy, and concentration.

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