Bipolar Disorder

Watch Out! Doctors Mistake Bipolar Disorder for ADHD

To doctors who are trained in mood disorders, ADHD symptoms can look like bipolar disorder. Don’t let your doctor misdiagnose you.

A doctor consults with a patient about the possibility of adult ADHD.
A doctor consults with a patient about the possibility of adult ADHD.

People with ADHD nervous systems are passionate. They feel things more intensely than people with neurotypical nervous systems. They tend to overreact to the people and events of their lives, especially when they perceive that someone has rejected them and withdrawn his love, approval, or respect.

Doctors see what they are trained to see. If they see “mood swings” only in terms of mood disorders, they will most likely diagnose a mood disorder. If they are trained to interpret excessive energy and racing thoughts in terms of mania, that is what they will probably diagnose.

According to data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), all the adults with ADHD were diagnosed as having bipolar mood disorder (BMD). ADHD wasn’t an option. By the time most got the correct diagnosis, they had seen an average of 2.3 doctors and been through 6.6 failed courses of antidepressant or mood-stabilizing medications.

Patients need to know, before a doctor makes a diagnosis, that mood disorders:

> Are not triggered by life events; they come out of the blue.
> Are separate from what is going on in a person’s life (when good thing happens, they are still miserable).
> Have a slow onset over weeks to months.
> Last for weeks and months unless they are treated.

Patients should also know that ADHD mood swings:

> Are a response to something happening in a person’s life.
> Match the person’s perception of that trigger.
> Shift instantaneously.
> Go away quickly, usually when the person diagnosed with ADHD becomes engaged in something new and interesting.

If you can’t get your doctor to see these important distinctions, chances are, you will be misdiagnosed and not properly treated.