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What are common misdiagnoses for bipolar disorder?

Ruth White, MPH
Social Work
Bipolar disorder can be misdiagnosed, especially as unipolar depression, because people often seek help when depressed and, unless they're asked about possible manic symptoms, that aspect of the illness might go untreated. Similarly, someone experiencing a manic episode may seek treatment and be diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Some people with bipolar disorder attempt to self-medicate by using alcohol or drugs and may seek help for symptoms related to substance addiction.
Bipolar 101: A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with Symptoms, and More

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Bipolar 101: A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with Symptoms, and More

After receiving a bipolar diagnosis, you need clear answers. Bipolar 101 is a straightforward guide to understanding bipolar disorder. It includes all the information you need to control your...
Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

Most often, when people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed, they are diagnosed with unipolar depression. In one study, it was found that people with bipolar disorder waited an average of 9 years for a correct diagnosis. This has likely improved due to our increased awareness and understanding of bipolar disorder, but sometimes the illness is difficult to diagnose - especially bipolar II - because people tend to not report their hypomanic symptoms. Most people don't think to tell their doctor about the times when they're feeling really good!

Many with bipolar disorder wait years to receive a correct diagnosis. Bipolar Disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression (because this is often the phase when they seek help), schizophrenia, other anxiety disorders, or borderline personality disorder. In younger children, the bipolar symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and even hyperactivity overlap with those for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.