Bipolar Disorder or Mood Swings? The Difference

By Gina C. | Updated: Jun 18, 2020


Mood swings and bipolar disorder may appear similar, but they are in fact quite different conditions. Although mood swings are a definite side effect of bipolar disorder, people who experience only mood swings are not necessarily bipolar. Keep reading to learn how to tell the difference.

Mood swings and bipolar disorder may appear similar, but they are in fact quite different conditions

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression, is a psychological disorder that largely gets in the way of your functionality. Moods become suddenly extreme, or manic, and manifest in the form of anger, euphoria, or depression.

These emotions become out of control during a manic episode and can lead to substance abuse, unstoppable sex drive, and psychosis - a distorted understanding of reality.

The general experience is an inability to get a grip of your words and actions. The increased irritability will make someone accidentally bumping into you feel the same as them bashing your car. Patients will deny that they are acting irrationally, and sometimes this can escalate to violence.

Bipolar disorder can also lead to severe depression, where a person will feel self-loathing and an absolute disinterest for life experience. These episodes can last from two weeks to six months.

On the other end of the spectrum, hypomania is a form of bipolar disorder that results in increased creativity, joy, and positivity. However, these episodes can also be accompanied by poor judgment and last for years if ignored.

Mood Swings

Everyone has experienced a mood swing at one point or another, and they are especially common among menopausal women. Mood swings are abrupt drops in emotion where a person can suddenly become extremely sad, angry, or lethargic. Even if at one moment they are happy, focused, and engaged, the next they can be locked in their room sobbing.

They are not permanently debilitating, and pass fairly quickly, but are nonetheless very annoying to deal with.

Comparing the Two



The major difference between mood swings and bipolar disorder is the duration. Bipolar disorder episodes can last weeks, months, and even years when ignored. The average length is about 13 weeks. When someone is diagnosed, it is likely that they can experience several episodes, varied in length, each year. Symptoms can even subside for a couple of years, and then come back strong. It is a long-term condition that varies from person to person but lingers nonetheless.

Mood swings typically last for a couple of hours to a couple of days. This brief dip in attitude can temporarily get in the way of social and professional activities but overall can be coped with and overcome fairly quickly. Only after seven days of extreme, continuous mood changes should there be concern for bipolar disorder.



While women experiencing mood swings are quick to acknowledge and admit the fact that they are in fact an emotional wreck, people with bipolar disorder often deny it. Not only do they deny it, some are so far removed that they truly believe that there is nothing unusual about their behavior, especially during an episode.



Mood swings are usually the result of intense life transitions (e.g., fired from job, divorce, death in the family), or brain chemistry issues as a result of hormonal imbalance. Especially during menopause, when estrogen levels are low, serotonin and norepinephrine become extremely imbalanced, leading to depression and mood changes.

Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is more deeply rooted in genetics, abnormalities of the brain, or neurological disorder and injury.



Mood swings are easily treatable and usually do not require the attention of a doctor. Women experiencing mood swings can make simple lifestyle changes - such as improving their diet and reducing stress levels - to help balance their hormones. In contrast, bipolar disorder requires long-term management under the supervision of a psychiatrist, who can prescribe the necessary lifestyle adjustments and medications.

During the menopausal transition, women are statistically more likely to suffer from mood swings - in some cases, severe ones - rather than bipolar disorder. If there is any doubt about your symptoms or what you are experiencing, it is best to see a doctor or psychiatrist.

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