Bipolar is a mood disorder characterized by extremes of mood that alternate from highs to lows, and at least 1 percent of people have it or symptoms of it.
ADHD is significantly more common, yet clinicians often mistake it for Bipolar, especially in hospilization cases. The reason for all this confusion is because the two disorders share a great deal of symptoms.
Diagnostically, the criteria for ADHD and bipolar overlap at 12 out of 18 points. Doctors often use mental checklists to diagnosis, especially when they’re pressed for time. Proper diagnosis of mental conditions requires extensive testing and evaluation.
Most importantly, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and reduced attention span are symptoms of both and may in the end not actually indicate either.
Worse, bipolar and ADHD can come together. The rates aren’t clear, but anywhere from 5-40% of adults with ADHD may suffer from a bipolar disorder.
Distinguishing between the two hinges on noticing 1) mood elevations 2) abnormal thinking 3) extremeness.
Bipolar is episodic, ADHD chronic
Bipolar episodes tend to come in more defined periods.
That said, people with ADHD can exhibit vast variability which can be confused for bipolar. When someone with ADHD is engaged and excited with something, their ability to work without pause, irritability at being interrupted and hyperfocus can be mistaken for bipolar.
Making it more complicated, bipolar can cycle rapidly which can mimic the behavioral pattern described above.
Bipolar has significant increases in mood with reduced need for sleep
Extremes of mood are more associated with bipolar than ADHD. When in a manic state, need for sleep is reduced and people with bipolar may stay up all night working on various projects that seem amazingly interesting and important.
Note: insomnia alone isn’t enough to indicate bipolar. We all have difficulty sleeping occasionally. It’s when consistent lack of sleep doesn’t cause sleepiness that bipolar is indicated.
Bipolar can have psychosis
Someone during a manic period can have delusions of grandeur or become paranoid. They may think they are a celebrity, extremely important or on the verge of a major discovery. Or they might decide that people are spying on them, plotting against them, or talking about them.
ADHD does not tend to have extreme deviations in the logical process. But someone with ADHD may have creative or seemingly strange thoughts that are still grounded in reality.
In kids, night terrors are associated with having bipolar, but not with ADHD.
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Psychiatric diagnoses are not set in stone. Make sure your doctor knows the important details. Medications can have powerful effects both for good and bad, and you want to be sure you’re taking the right ones.