Is Your ADHD Child Also Bipolar?

December 05, 2011

Is Your ADHD Child Also Bipolar?

Bipolar has become increasingly more well-known as the media has embraced the condition through the publicizing of symptoms. One of the aspects of Bipolar which has come to light over the past few years is that there are more children suffering with the mental health issue than was ever thought possible previously. The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation have published an estimate which suggests that over three quarters of a million children and young adults across America may have the condition, although a large proportion of these remain undiagnosed at this time. One of the main issues affecting effective diagnosis of Bipolar Affective Disorder is its number of shared symptoms with ADHD. Attention Deficit Disorder is a tricky condition, as it can often co-exist with other mental or physical disorders, which can often make it a complex and challenging feat to correctly identify, isolate and treat specific symptoms relating to co-existing conditions. It is thought that almost half of all adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD also have another major psychiatric disorder, meaning that healthcare professionals have to scrutinize patients closely to ensure that they arrive at a suitable diagnosis which takes in to account not just the specific symptoms relating to ADHD, but also the identification of other conditions. Bipolar and ADHD share a number of symptoms, including impatience, exuberant behavior, rapid talkativeness and instability of mood. This can make it tricky for people to arrive at an accurate diagnosis, leading to effective treatment. Recognizing the differences and shared elements of both disorders can make it easier for parents, teachers and healthcare specialists to draw a true distinction between aspects of behavior which can be attributed to Bipolar, and those which are common to ADHD.

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ADHD is far more common than Bipolar Affective Disorder, which means that it is often the first diagnosis which a child with potential Bipolar may be given. The impulsive, distractable and restless nature of the condition mean that it shares many symptoms of a manic phase in Bipolar Disorder. However, there are ways to distinguish between the two conditions, to find out if your child has one, both, or neither. 
  • ADHD is always evident in the sufferer whereas Bipolar Disorder is a cyclical range of symptoms which can come and go, sometimes in periods of up to six months or more. In between mood instability, children with Bipolar will tend to be absolutely level in terms of mood swings and consistent behavior.
  • Bipolar Disorder is characterized by changes and shifts in mood which don’t appear to have any apparent cause. The mood changes are due to a chemical reaction, as opposed to being brought about by external events. Conversely, ADHD sufferers often respond and react to external triggers which can enable caregivers to trace events and understand the underlying cause of a current shift in mood.
  • Bipolar sufferers tend to have longer periods of instability – a low mood can last for days, and a manic phase the same. ADHD, because it is usually triggered from external events, will have a much more rapid cycle for mood swings. Crashes or snaps can take place over hours, rather than days or weeks.
  • There is often a genetic heredity for both disorders, which can make it much easier for healthcare professionals to reach an accurate diagnosis. ADHD becomes manifest often by as early as seven years old in a child, whereas the average age for a full Bipolar diagnosis tends to be around 26 years. 

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