What Causes Bipolar Disorder? | Recognizing Signs & Symptoms

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people around the world, yet its exact cause remains unknown. Fortunately, tracking technologies and ample research have allowed professionals to determine what makes a person more likely to develop bipolar disorder.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the environmental, physical, and social factors that increase your chances of developing the illness. You’ll also find out what can trigger a manic episode and how to address it.

Genetic Factors

Because bipolar disorders tend to run in a patient’s family history, there is sufficient evidence to support a link to genetics. Here are some of the most common genetic risk factors:

Inherited Traits

If you have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder or a similar mental health condition, you are more likely to develop the disease yourself. For example, hereditary schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may genetically predispose you to develop bipolar traits.

With that in mind, co-occurrence is not guaranteed. For instance, twin studies suggest it’s possible for only one twin to develop the illness, although there is still a 70% chance of both twins inheriting the disorder.

Childhood Trauma

There is no single gene that causes bipolar disorder in family members. However, family dynamics do play a pertinent role in a person’s development and growth.

Emotionally distressing events such as sexual abuse, neglect, or loss in the family can contribute to a patient’s inability to regulate emotions. Stressful life events also increase the occurrence of mood changes, mania and depression, and similar symptoms.

Early symptoms often occur during a person’s mid-teens to early twenties. However, some signs may be misleading or one-off instances. To correctly diagnose bipolar disorder, provide your doctor with your full family history.

Biological Factors

In the United States alone, both types of bipolar disorder equally affect 2.8% of people. However, its prevalence can vary depending on the following biological factors.


People with bipolar disorder are likely to experience initial symptoms between the ages of 15 and 25. However, you can also begin to experience symptoms after the age of 30. Early-onset bipolar disorder can also occur in children and teens as young as the age of 6.

Younger patients are more likely to experience mania or hypomania, while older patients are prone to depressive episodes.


While bipolar I disorder equally affects both men and women, female patients are more likely to develop bipolar II disorder. Women are also more predisposed to rapid cycling and tend to have more severe manic episodes. Additionally, female patients not undergoing the appropriate treatment plan are at greater suicide risk.

Brain Cells

When you suffer from a chemical imbalance, you lose the ability to control essential brain functions. The less active your neurotransmitters are, the less efficiently brain cells can regulate mood, energy, and behavior.

Studies show that the loss of functionality in more than one neurotransmitter increases the chances of developing bipolar disorder. For instance, higher levels of noradrenaline can trigger episodes of mania, while lower levels cause depression.


Remember, mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. When mitochondria function abnormally, it can cause symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as mood swings and varying energy levels.

Under an MRI, a person with bipolar disorder will demonstrate elevated brain signals responsible for coordinating voluntary movement. The more irregular these signals are, the less efficient cellular function becomes.

But while bipolar disorder may provide more concrete information under a microscope or medical imaging equipment, most professionals diagnose the condition based on observable symptoms. A combination of scientific evidence and daily observation can help experts determine the leading cause of your bipolar disorder.

Environmental & Conditional Factors

Stressful circumstances and other environmental considerations can exacerbate your symptoms. Below are a few vital factors that can cause mood episodes and lead to permanent mood disorders.

Stressful Events

Life-altering events such as the death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, and failed interpersonal relationships can cause bipolar disorder. If you are already suffering from mania or depression, experiencing any of the above can worsen bipolar disorder symptoms.

Physical Illness

Physical illnesses such as a brain disorder or irregular sleep patterns can trigger some symptoms of bipolar disorder. Without treatment, painful physical conditions can increase stress levels and cause a manic depressive episode. People with other physical conditions should disclose this information to their healthcare professionals.

What Are Common Triggers Of Bipolar Episodes?

If you are already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you should be aware of triggers that increase stress levels and worsen symptoms. Below are a few common triggers that you’ll want to keep in mind.

Poor Sleeping & Health Habits

Fluctuating activity levels can result in getting too much or too little sleep. If you are also suffering from a sleep disorder, you might experience symptoms such as:

  • Severe moodiness
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
  • Risky behavior

Similarly, symptoms of bipolar disorder can worsen sleep problems and cause:

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Misperceptions about how much sleep you’re getting
  • Sluggishness and inability to perform daily tasks


People with bipolar disorder can get triggered when they are overstimulated. Loud noises, touch, heightened activity, increased caffeine intake, and nicotine can all potentially cause an episode.

Major Life Events

Both positive and negative occurrences can trigger symptoms of a mental disorder. Experts suggest that big occasions such as the birth of a child, a new marriage, the loss of a family member, a job promotion, or the end of a relationship can cause an episode. Even minor disruptions to daily routines can cause people to become manic or depressive.

Substance Abuse & Drugs

Some patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder don’t take well to treatment options such as mood stabilizers or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Thus, they often turn to self-medication and can become reliant on drugs or alcohol.

Taking alcohol and nicotine with drugs such as mood stabilizers or antidepressants can result in a relapse or even hospitalization. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact your doctor immediately.

Side Effects

People with bipolar disorder are often prescribed medication such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. While these options typically improve a person’s mental health condition, there is no treatment for bipolar disorder that comes without side effects.

For example, some antidepressants can trigger hypomania or severe withdrawal symptoms when coming off them. If a person experiences mania after undergoing a particular treatment, they should consult with their doctor immediately.

Your doctor might also recommend alternative treatment such as herbal supplements, lifestyle adjustments, or a more nutritious diet. By incorporating home remedies into your routine, your bipolar disorder may improve significantly.

The Bottom Line

A mental health disorder can be challenging to treat without a definite cause. However, understanding your triggers can help people put some symptoms into perspective.

Bipolar disorder can occur in a person who is genetically predisposed to the disease. Environmental changes such as traumatic incidents or an abusive upbringing can also make a person vulnerable to the illness.

If you or a person you know has bipolar disorder, contact us at Transformations Treatment Center to get more information.

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