<p>You wake up one morning with your head all congested and a bit of a fever. You keep sneezing. Your throat is sore. By mid-afternoon you are miserable and head for the doctor. He takes one look and says, &#34;You have a cold.&#34; He prescribes a decongestant, a cough syrup and rest. He might even order a lab test or two and prescribe an antibiotic if evidence of an infection is found. Perhaps your doctor schedules a glucose tolerance test because your complaint of numb toes and frequent thirst indicates you may be developing diabetes. Within a couple of days, you&#39;ll know for sure if you are going to have to start counting carbohydrates.<br/><br/>Unfortunately, diagnosing bipolar disorder is nowhere near this straightforward.<br/><br/>While there are some promising breakthroughs on the horizon, there is currently no definitive medical test for this disorder. Furthermore, there are a number of physical conditions and quite a few psychiatric disorders which present symptoms that can be confused with those of bipolar disorder. And just to complicate things a bit more, a great many psychiatric disorders can occur in tandem.<br/><br/>Therefore, to reach a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a psychiatrist will usually conduct the following:</p><ul><li> <strong>A complete medical history and physical exam</strong><br/>These are conducted in order to rule out other physical conditions.<br/><strong>See:</strong> <a href="https://www.verywell.com/bipolar-disorder-physical-conditions-378899" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="internalLink" data-ordinal="1">Ruling Out Other Physical Conditions</a> </li><li> <strong>A complete psychiatric history</strong><br/>As previously noted, the possibility of other mental disorders should be considered. Furthermore, bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings that tend to cycle. In reviewing a patient&#39;s history, previous mood swings (perhaps of less severity or duration) may come to light.<br/><strong>See: </strong><a href="https://www.verywell.com/bipolar-disorder-diagnosis-ruling-out-other-conditions-378900" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="internalLink" data-ordinal="2">Ruling Out Other Psychiatric Conditions</a> </li><li> <strong>A family history of medical and psychiatric concerns</strong><br/>Current research indicates that mood disorders have genetic underpinnings - they tend to run in families. Therefore, if there is a family history of depression or bipolar disorder, it is a good indication that this is the case for the current patient as well.</li><li> <strong>An evaluation of current symptoms</strong><br/>There are a number of symptoms that are common for manic and depressive episodes:<br/><a href="https://www.verywell.com/how-to-recognize-a-manic-or-hypomanic-episode-380316" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="internalLink" data-ordinal="3">How to Recognize a Manic Episode</a><br/><a href="https://www.verywell.com/how-to-recognize-symptoms-of-depression-378762" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="internalLink" data-ordinal="4">How to Recognize a Depressive Episode</a> </li></ul>If no physical cause is found, if no other psychiatric disorder better accounts for symptoms, and if the current symptoms have been of significant duration or cause significant impairment in functioning, a patient may then be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is important to note here that if there is <em>no previous history</em> of mania or hypomania, the current symptoms <em>must</em> be those of mania or hypomania for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Since bipolar disorder is characterized by <strong>both</strong> extremes of mood (mania and depression), symptoms of depression only will obviously lead to a diagnosis of unipolar depression.