ADHD vs Bipolar: Know the difference

Inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, sleeping problems, racing thoughts and moodiness. These are all typical symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They are also common symptoms of bipolar disorder – a mental illness known for severe mood swings and depression. But how do you tell the difference?

Studies estimate that 20% of people with ADHD will develop bipolar disorder. Conversely, 70% of people with bipolar disorder also have ADHD. The high comorbidity rate and overlap in symptoms make these two conditions difficult to distinguish and diagnose. ADHD is ten times more common and more likely to be recognised while bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed. It is critical to know the difference and get an independent but coordinated treatment plan for both.

Untreated ADHD can be challenging but living with a misdiagnosed ADHD and bipolar combination can be dangerous. However, with an accurate diagnosis, the ADHD and bipolar combination can be treated successfully. This will help patients feel more stable in mood and in their ability to live fulfilling lives in their roles as spouses, parents and employees.

One fundamental difference is that ADHD mainly affects attention and behaviour while bipolar symptoms mainly affect mood. Distinctions can be drawn between the two based on mood shift triggers, the speed and duration of mood shifts, the onset and consistency of symptoms, and the individual’s sense of reality. 

The importance of an accurate diagnosis can’t be overstated. With a holistic and dual treatment plan, therapy and life management, individuals with both ADHD and bipolar disorder can live healthy and fulfilling lives.

If you suspect that you or a loved one might have ADHD, set the record straight with this self-assessment. If you are unsure about the symptoms or suspect that bipolar disorder might be present, speak to a medical professional.

For more information around the symptoms, impact and treatment of ADHD, visit MyADHD.co.za or My ADHD on Facebook.

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