A literature search, supplemented by an expert survey and selected reanalyses of existing data from epidemiological studies was performed to determine the prevalence and associated burden of bipolar I and II disorder in EU countries. Only studies using established diagnostic instruments based on DSM-III-R or DSM-IV, or ICD-10 criteria were considered. Fourteen studies from a total of 10 countries were identified. The majority of studies reported 12-month estimates of approximately 1% (range 0.5-1.1%), with little evidence of a gender difference. The cumulative lifetime incidence (two prospective-longitudinal studies) is slightly higher (1.5-2%); and when the wider range of bipolar spectrum disorders is considered estimates increased to approximately 6%. Few studies have reported separate estimates for bipolar I and II disorders. Age of first onset of bipolar disorder is most frequently reported in late adolescence and early adulthood. A high degree of concurrent and sequential comorbidity with other mental disorders and physical illnesses is common. Most studies suggest equally high or even higher levels of impairments and disabilities of bipolar disorders as compared to major depression and schizophrenia. Few data are available on treatment and health care utilization.