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Testing for ADHD: Is it Bipolar Disorder or ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD can sometimes look like Bipolar Disorder – there is a huge overlap in symptoms, such as physical restlessness, distractibility, irritability, rapid or impulsive speech, and so on…and unfortunately, because of this, we’ve often seen individuals misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (often by professionals with little or no experience with ADHD) and vice-versa.

We’ve talked before about overlap in symptoms, such as with Is it Anxiety or ADHD? and Is it Depression or ADHD?, and each time we’ve gone back to the same conclusion – knowing that ADHD can look like a lot of different things, it is absolutely essential to seek out an experienced medical professional – someone who knows ADHD – for a comprehensive assessment. This is key to differentiating what’s what – is it ADHD, is it potentially something else…what’s the root of your difficulties?

A few things a professional needs to thoroughly explore to help differentiate between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder:

  • Age of onset. A comprehensive assessment needs to look closely at when the symptoms began occurring. For an ADHD diagnosis, age of onset is quite early (we need to see evidence for signs and symptoms before the age of 12), while the age of onset for Bipolar Disorder tends to be later in life (generally in an individual’s twenties).
  • Specific symptoms. Many of the symptoms that overlap between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder tend to be what we call “nonspecific symptoms,” or symptoms that can generalize to a number of different potential mental health concerns. To help differentiate what could be Bipolar Disorder, for example, a professional will need to look primarily at the “cardinal symptoms” of that diagnosis, such as elation, grandiosity, flights of ideas/racing thoughts, and so on.
  • Consistency of symptoms. ADHD symptoms tend to be fairly consistent and pervasive across different domains of an individual’s life. Bipolar symptoms on the other hand tend to be more episodic. So, a comprehensive assessment will need to look at the consistency of the symptoms.

So, if you think you or a loved one might have ADHD, but there is some question that Bipolar Disorder might be in the picture, a thorough ADHD assessment will help you start teasing out what is ADHD and what it is not. Once we either rule it in or rule it out, it can make things a lot more clear in terms of next steps.

Click here for more information about assessments at Springboard Clinic, or contact us at 416-901-3077 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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