By now we know the symptoms of bipolar disorder – wild mood swings from euphoria (mania or hypomania) to depression. We know that bipolar disorder comes in lots of variants, bipolar 1, bipolar 2, cyclothmia, rapid-cycling and so forth.
But when are the symptoms of bipolar disorder not bipolar disorder? Are there other illnesses that can account for bipolar symptoms?
When is bipolar disorder not bipolar disorder?
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
There are a number of steps that are gone through to diagnose bipolar disorder. This is known as the history and mental status examination.
And some of those steps involve ruling out other disorders with medical tests. The ones that immediately spring to my mind include:
- Complete blood count
- Thyroid test
But I’m not a doctor, so there may be others that are common too.
Doctors run these tests because they want to do a differential diagnosis: They want to find the best diagnosis that fits with your symptoms. Normally with a history and mental status exam, it’s pretty easy to diagnose bipolar disorder (for a trained professional) but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be something else.
If Not Bipolar Disorder, Then What?
According to Medscape Reference, the differential diagnoses for bipolar disorder include:
- Cushing Syndrome (caused by prolonged exposure to elevated levels of glucocorticoids, a type of steroid)
- Head Trauma
- Anxiety Disorders
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Neuro-ophthalmic Perspective Migraine Headache
- Pediatric Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (an inflammatory connective tissue disease)
What, no one ever told you that?
You Probably Don’t Have Any of Those Things
Now, understand, I’m not suggesting that there are a whole lot of people out there walking around with a bipolar disorder diagnosis that really have neurosyphilis. Most of the disorders on that list can easily be ruled out by trained professionals with a few questions. (Being incorrectly diagnosed with one mental illness when you have another is shockingly common, however.)
Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are other causes of bipolar disorder symptoms. If treatment isn’t working, it’s possible that’s one of the reasons why – really you aren’t correctly diagnosed.
Talk to Your Doctor
And if you haven’t had your thyroid checked or you’ve had head trauma and no one’s ever asked you about it, it might be worth a discussion with your physician. It’s not about being a hypochondriac, the doctor may have hit the diagnosis on the head, it’s just about making sure you’re in the right box. Because if they don’t have the illness right, getting the treatment right is much less likely.