How To Tell The Difference Between Mood Swings And Bipolar Disorder

How To Tell The Difference Between Mood Swings And Bipolar Disorder

Many people wonder what’s the difference between bipolar and mood swings because the two conditions may seem similar. It can be challenging for people with fluctuating mood swings to ascertain what they’re suffering from, especially if they haven’t gotten a diagnosis from a professional doctor.

This article aims to shed some light on these two conditions and clarify the difference in people’s minds. So if you or a loved one are experiencing mood shifts, you have to determine if it’s normal or start looking for help from mental health experts or researching a website like

To gain more knowledge, here are some differences between mood swings and bipolar disorder:

1. Their Descriptions

To understand mood swings and bipolar disorder, it’s essential to know how these two are described.

Mood Swings

Mood swings are commonly used to describe an individual’s rapid fluctuating emotions. Often this person seems unpredictable. One time they may be overly excited, bubbly, and happy; the next minute, the person appears sad, angry, and even irritable.

Mood swings are normal because they are an expression of the emotions that you feel when different things are happening in your life. You’re well aware that life isn’t a straight line, and sometimes unexpected things happen. And, when they do, you may react in a particular way—like crying, getting angry, frowning, or even laughing.

For example, if you know that a close friend of yours no longer has a job, yet they have a family to take care of and bills to pay, you may feel sad and sorry for them. This is regardless of whether you were happy before the news or not. Therefore, that sudden shift of emotions from happy to sad isn’t a bad sign. In essence, this explanation is to help you realize that mood swings are healthy and are a normal part of life.

Bipolar Disorder

On the other hand, bipolar disorder is defined as a mental health problem that causes an individual to experience intense mood swings that can lead to difficulty functioning and even concentrating on the activities they indulge in daily. There are different types of bipolar disorder, this includes:

Bipolar I diagnosis:

This criterion is often characterized by one manic episode lasting at least a week. Moreover, intense mood swings can cause impact or even impair a person’s social or occupational functioning. With this, a person may cause harm to themselves or others. However, it’s essential to note that the manic episode is not attributed to any substance use or medical condition.

Bipolar II diagnosis:

On the other hand, this criterion is characterized by alternating periods of hypomanic and major depressive episodes but no manic episodes. This causes distress in social, occupational, and other forms of functioning.

Bipolar disorder manifests itself through a person’s emotions, where they exhibit manic or depressive behavior. When experiencing a manic episode, this individual is overly excited, all over the place, and can even make illogical decisions since they’re not thinking soberly. The reason is that they’re super joyful and energetic; hence they don’t take the time to think critically.

On the flip side, when individuals go through a depressive episode, they often feel overwhelmed and depressed. They may avoid people and indulge in enjoyable activities, looking sad and distressed.

With the above explanation, you can tell that mood swings are normal. However, if it’s an extreme case, either mania or hypomania, the person may have bipolar disorder.

2. Differing Causes

Every person has mood shifts from time to time due to the many life changes. So, when things happen within or around you, chances are high that you’ll react depending on how you feel, influencing your mood. Some common causes of change in emotions include the following:

Injury Or Illness:

Some chronic injuries or illnesses that have an impact on the brain might cause you to have mood disorders. Examples of these include the following:

    • Concussion
    • Stroke
    • Dementia
    • Sleep disorder
    • Multiple Sclerosis

Any neurological condition might affect your moods and cause you to behave weirdly.


If you have allergies, you may often find that they influence your mood whenever your body reacts. For instance, there’s a high chance that you’ll be sad when you’re feeling fatigued, have teary eyes, or are itching. It’s even worse if these allergies tamper with your sleeping patterns because they will affect your mood, causing you to feel angry or irritable and also experience challenges in concentrating.

Body Development:

For example, when a toddler or baby is in their development stages, say they’re starting to grow teeth, they may appear moody and even throw tantrums. It’s critical to know that not all mood swings in babies are a sign that they’re developing; hence you need to consult a pediatrician to ascertain the cause of the change in emotions.

Also, as kids continue growing and the body starts preparing to enter the teenage phase, they often experience fluctuating mood swings caused by changes in their hormones. The peak of these mood swings is the adolescent stage, which is why most of them get easily angry, irritable, and sad. However, it gets better gradually as they grow toward adulthood, where they can control their emotions.

Menstrual Cycle, Pregnancy, And Menopausal Hormonal Changes:

How To Tell The Difference Between Mood Swings And Bipolar Disorder

There are periods when most people, particularly men, state that they don’t understand ladies. And, often, it’s when they’re about to have their menstrual cycle. It’s critical to know that during this time, there are many fluctuations in the woman’s body because of the changes in hormone levels. This significantly affects their mood because they’re reacting to the shifting hormonal levels, but then they get well once they attain hormone balance.

The same applies to expectant mothers and those experiencing menopause. Hence, they get moody in response to the shifting changes in the hormonal level.


When you’re not consistently following the dosage prescribed by your doctor, you may start experiencing mood swings. However, this depends on the type of medication you’re under.

For instance, if you’re under mood stabilizers or antidepressants, you stop; you’ll likely experience flotations in mood swings. Sometimes, you may get these mood swings while constantly following the doctor’s instructions. And when this happens, it may be a sign that the treatment isn’t the perfect choice for your illness or there’s a misdiagnosis. Hence, it would be best if you went back to the physician. Other times, mood swings may be the side effect of the medication that you’re taking. In all these scenarios, it’s critical to confirm with the doctor.

Now that you know some probable causes of mood swings, you’d also want to know what causes bipolar disorder. While there’s no specific cause that medical researchers can point out as the exact cause, some factors can trigger this condition. Certain things might increase the chances of an individual suffering from bipolar disorder. This may include the following:


Scientific researchers link the bipolar disorder to the individual’s genes. Most times, when physicians are interviewing their patients suffering from bipolar to make a proper diagnosis, they’ve discovered that the problem runs in the family of most patients. This, therefore, means that if someone in your family suffers from bipolar, there’s an increased likelihood that you’ll do the same.

Chemical Imbalances:

Since the brain controls all our body functions, a chemical imbalance might cause you to act abnormally. Regarding this, medics believe this might be one of the reasons for bipolar disorder. When the chemicals that control the brain’s functions—dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline—aren’t balanced, you can develop some bipolar symptoms. An example is when you have excess adrenaline, you may be overly excited. On the other hand, when they’re low, there’s a high chance that you’ll experience depression.

Other reasons that can trigger bipolar disorder are divorce, the death of a loved one or close family member, any form of abuse, alcohol and substance use, sleep disturbances, financial problems, failed relationships, and other stressful life situations.

Before you get to the point where you’re suffering from bipolar due to life issues, it’s critical to seek counseling services. They’ll give you advice on how to deal with different life issues, which will help you cope. It’ll also help you avoid getting any form of mental health problems.

3. One Has Two Episodes With Distinct Symptoms, And The Other One Doesn’t

In as much as fluctuating moods characterize both conditions, bipolar disorder has two episodes, while mood swings don’t have any distinct episodes. They’re triggered by different life circumstances, as mentioned above.

To gain further insight, here are symptoms that a person experiences when going through mood swings:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to understand and explain what’s happening to your body
  • The changes haven’t been happening regularly

Alternatively, a person with bipolar has extreme mood swings. Some symptoms they exhibit in the mania episode include the following:

  • A strong feeling of self-importance
  • Hallucinations and being delusional
  • Losing focus easily
  • Extreme joy and happiness
  • Talking quickly
  • Indulging in destructive actions
  • Having great ideas
  • Being at the forefront of making plans
  • Taking things that don’t make sense, sometimes out of character
  • Illogical thinking
  • High sex drive

When in a depression episode, some symptoms that you may experience are the following:

  • Low morale
  • Feeling guilty
  • Self-doubt
  • Loss of appetite
  • Getting easily irritable
  • Sadness
  • Having a negative attitude about everything
  • Lack of concentration
  • Losing interest in indulging in different activities
  • Suicidal thoughts

From the above list, you can tell that the symptoms or emotions of bipolar disorder are somewhat intense compared to mood swings.

4. Different Timing and Intensity

On many occasions, mood swings aren’t as extreme, and they last for a shorter period-about a day, in as much as they may come unexpectedly but less frequently. Moreover, controlling mood swings can be more manageable, so they don’t affect the people around them.

On the flip side, it’s difficult for an individual to control bipolar disorder emotions, which can last longer. Once their mood has shifted, they may struggle to return to a calmer state. You may find this person very happy, and then suddenly, they get irritable and angry—a manic episode followed by a depressive one.

The situation can also happen the other way around, where the person can shift from a depressive episode to the manic one uncontrollably. And while there are ways to manage a manic episode, it’s best to seek advice from mental health experts.

5. Diverse Reactions From Your Loved Ones

People will react when you have a problem that they can see or sense. So, when you have mood swings occasionally, it won’t raise eyebrows or alarms as much because people know it isn’t you. They may relate the mood swings to the issue if they know what you’re going through. Hence, rarely will they recommend that you see a doctor.

However, the situation can be different if you have bipolar disorder. Your loved ones and friends will insist you see a doctor because your mood swings are irregular, intense, and out of control. And, since they affect most aspects of your life, like work or school relationships, you’ll hear many complaints from almost everyone you associate with.

People will even start fearing you because of your unstable emotions. So, it’s critical to understand that having bipolar order affects you and the lives of the people around you. That constant cycle of euphoria and then depression can be draining.

And after receiving many complaints, losing friends, and losing control of your emotions, you must seek help from a mental health expert. This will help you avoid getting into further problems like legal issues. The professional will administer treatment to help control and stabilize your emotions, and you’ll get better in the long run.


Many confuse mood swings and bipolar disorder because people with either condition have one common symptom fluctuating moods. It’s important to note that these two conditions are different in the following ways: their intensity, the period they last, and their description. The way individuals react to the behavior of individuals with these conditions is also different, as described above. One thing you need to consider is that mood swings are expected, while bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that needs treatment from a professional.

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