Is It Bipolar Disorder or ADHD?


Bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are conditions that affect many people. Some of the symptoms overlap. That can make it difficult to tell the difference between the two conditions without the help of a doctor. Because bipolar disorder can worsen over time, especially without proper treatment, it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis.


Bipolar disorder is best known for the mood swings it causes. People with bipolar disorder can move from manic or hypomanic highs to depressive lows ranging from a few times a year to as frequently as every couple of weeks. A manic episode needs to last at least 7 days to meet the diagnostic criteria, but it can be of any duration if the symptoms are severe enough to require hospitalization. If the person has a depressive episode, they must experience symptoms which meet the diagnostic criteria for a major depressive episode, which lasts at least two weeks in duration. If the person has a hypomanic episode, the hypomanic symptoms need only last 4 days. You may feel on top of the world one week and down in the dumps the next. Some people with bipolar I disorder may not have depressive episodes.

People who have bipolar disorder have wide-ranging symptoms. During the depressive state, they might feel hopeless and deeply sad. They may have thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Mania produces totally opposite symptoms, but can be just as damaging. Individuals experiencing a manic episode might engage in risky financial and sexual behaviors, have feelings of inflated self-esteem, or use drugs and alcohol to excess.

ADHD is most often diagnosed during childhood. It is characterized by symptoms which may include difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Boys tend to have higher rates of ADHD than girls. Diagnoses have been made as early as age two or three. There are a variety of symptoms that can express themselves uniquely in each individual, including:

  • trouble completing assignments or tasks
  • frequent daydreaming
  • frequent distraction and difficulty following directions
  • constant movement and squirming

It’s important to note that not all people, especially children, who display these symptoms have ADHD. Some are naturally more active or distractible than others. It’s when these behaviors interfere with life that doctors suspect the condition. People diagnosed with ADHD may also experience higher rates of coexisting conditions, including:

    • learning disabilities
    • bipolar disorder
    • depression
    • Tourette syndrome
    • oppositional defiant disorder

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