Bipolar 1 vs Bipolar 2: Understand the Difference

There are two main types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2. Read this guide to understand the difference between the two.

As humans, we experience emotional highs and lows. Feeling happy or depressed is normal, and it’s a normal reaction to processing what we experience.

Some people experience these emotions differently. Their euphoria reaches the highest peaks, but they also come crashing down to the lowest lows.

These intense feelings may be the result of bipolar disorder. People who experience the disorder may feel isolated. However, bipolar disorder is more common than people realize. Bipolar disorder impacts an average of 2.6 percent of the U.S. adult population each year. It also comes in different forms. The most common diagnoses are Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2.

What is the difference between Bipolar 1 vs. Bipolar 2? Keep reading to learn more.

A Brief Guide to the Types of Bipolar Disorder

Psychiatrists recognize that bipolar disorder impacts people differently. However, they are also able to categorize these differences into distinct types of bipolar disorder.

The four primary types include:

  1. Bipolar 1
  2. Bipolar 2
  3. Cyclothymic disorder
  4. Mixed features

Bipolar 1 and 2 make up the majority of diagnoses. Every type of bipolar features essential elements of extreme moods with manic episodes and depressive episodes.

The primary difference between Bipolar 1 vs. Bipolar 2 is in the intensity or severity of the manic episodes.

What Are Manic Episodes?

Manic episodes are not disorders in themselves. You can experience them without a bipolar diagnosis.

The definition of a manic episode is a state where you experience a period of elevated mood. Manic episodes occur differently for each person. Most, however, experience:

  • High energy
  • Euphoria
  • Heightened creativity
  • Hyperactivity

To qualify as a manic episode, it must occur over a period of at least a week.

What does a manic episode look like? People experiencing a manic episode present at least three of these symptoms:

  • Increased activity
  • Abnormal levels of agitation
  • Sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Racing thoughts
  • Talkativeness
  • Risky behaviors
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Heightened self-confidence or sense of well-being (euphoria)

These symptoms sound positive on paper. However, the state becomes so intense that it causes problems in the patient’s life. Their mood is severe enough that they struggle to socialize or work with others. Manic episodes may even lead to hospitalization.

What is Bipolar 1?

Bipolar 1 features both manic and depressive episodes. 

To receive a diagnosis, the patient must have experienced at least one full manic episode. Someone with bipolar 1 may experience depression or a depressive episode, but the presence of these symptoms isn’t required for a diagnosis.

Manic episodes, as described above, are very intense. They result in significant changes in mood and behavior noticed by almost everyone around you, even people you don’t know.

Bipolar mania is complicated and comes with nuances presented by each person. Manic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors may vary considerably. Some people feel like they are on top of the world; nothing feels impossible, and they feel that they are uniquely capable.

Some people may experience mild euphoria, but those with a more severe form of mania may lose touch with reality. 

Psychologists say that one of the common experiences that links bipolar patients is the tendency to spend huge amounts of money during the course of their manic episodes. Gross overspending is a classic example of risky behaviors that come with mania and bipolar.

What is Bipolar 2?

While bipolar 1 exhibits manic episodes, bipolar 2 diagnoses rely on both manic and depressive episodes.

A person diagnosed with bipolar 2 will experience at least one hypomanic episode and a major depressive episode that lasts for at least two weeks.

A hypomanic episode is similar to a manic episode, but the symptoms are less severe. You might see that a person’s behavior changed, but it does not necessarily interfere in their lives the way a manic episode does.

Bipolar 2 is known for being less severe because of the less intense manic episodes. In some cases, a doctor or psychiatrist may misdiagnose bipolar 2 as depression.

Depressive symptoms tend to remain at the forefront of the diagnosis. In patients where no manic episodes appear, then the focus of the treatments may rely almost exclusively on attending to the depressive symptoms.

Bipolar 1 vs. Bipolar 2: The Difference

Nuances aside, the difference between bipolar 1 and 2 is mania.

A person with bipolar 1 experiences intense manic episodes that characterize the condition as well as depressive symptoms. Bipolar 1 comes with greater exaggerations in the peaks and troughs of mood and features mania that may land the patient in the hospital.

Someone with bipolar 2 may experience hypomania – a less severe mania – and depressive symptoms and episodes.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder 

Bipolar disorder isn’t easy to diagnose. Not only do many people experience symptoms for years before diagnosis, symptoms may appear as isolated problems or present as a different issue.

For example, bipolar 2 may be misdiagnosed as depression. Bipolar 1 may be confused with a personality disorder or schizophrenia.

As a result, patients may see their diagnoses evolve or change over the course talk therapy or if they switch care providers.

Is There a Bipolar Test?

There is no formal bipolar test available to definitely identify bipolar 1 or 2.

Instead, physicians and psychiatrists rely on a series of exams to uncover a bipolar diagnosis.

A diagnosis will include things like:

  • Physical exams to rule out medical problems
  • Psychiatric assessment to identify bipolar criteria (DSM-5)
  • Mood charting

Psychiatric assessments will also identify other comorbid issues such as substance abuse, PTSD or childhood trauma, or other comorbid psychiatric disorders.

Do You Recognize the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The difference between bipolar 1 vs. bipolar 2 is in the severity of the mania experience. People with bipolar 1 experience full manic episodes that disrupt their lives in different but serious ways.

Many people who experience bipolar disorder, particularly type 1, don’t realize that their mania or depression differs from the ordinary. As a result, it may take time for them to realize they need help and accept it.

Do you recognize some of the symptoms described above in yourself or someone you love? Help is available. Psychological counseling and forms of talk therapy are a critical step in managing bipolar and other disorders.

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