Will A Brain Scan Detect Bipolar Disorder?

MRIs and CT scans can provide detailed images of your brain and its structures. However, doctors don’t use them for diagnosing bipolar disorder. This is because diagnosing bipolar disorder is done through a diagnostic interview with a mental health expert. In this article, you will learn if it is possible to detect bipolar disorders using brain scans.

Brain Scans And Bipolar Disorder: What Is The Connection?

Although brain scans are not used to diagnose bipolar disorder, they can rule out other conditions. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, these conditions may lead to symptoms resembling those of bipolar disorder, such as tumors, stroke, and brain injury.

Individuals who get brain scans linked to bipolar disorder do so for research purposes rather than for diagnosing the disorder. Brain scans can also show which structures are involved in different disease processes. This has led experts to believe there could be a link between structural differences in the brain and bipolar disorder.

However, a 2018 imaging study revealed inconsistent results. The researchers discovered thinner cortical gray matter in the frontal, parietal, and temporal areas of both brain hemispheres. Cortical thickness was also affected, but this may be from certain medications, such as lithium.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Imaging scans can give us a lot of information about the brain. However, brain scans are not used to diagnose bipolar disorder. To diagnose this condition, a psychologist may have to conduct a physical exam or order lab tests. These can help rule out any other medical condition causing your symptoms.

There are different types of bipolar disorders, including:

● Bipolar I disorder: You might experience at least one manic episode for at least 7 days.
● Bipolar II disorder: This involves a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes but not fully manic episodes.
● Cyclothymic disorder: This type of bipolar disorder is defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms alternating with periods of depressive symptoms lasting at least 2 years.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), treatment often includes:

● Mood stabilizers
● Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
● Second-generation antipsychotics

That said, you might need to try different medications to find what works best for you.


While brain scans are not typically used in diagnosing bipolar disorder, researchers use them to explore the condition. Currently, mental health experts diagnose bipolar disorder through a clinical review. From that point, you can work together to create a treatment plan. With the right treatment, bipolar disorder can be effectively managed.