Differentiating between Attention Deficit Disorder and Bipolar Disorder can be very challenging, particularly for the inexperienced clinician. In part, this is because these two syndromes share some common behaviors, but also because there is an overlap in the incidence of the two problems.
Research and clinical experience suggest that a many as 30% of individuals with Bipolar Disorder also have ADD and somewhere around 3.5% of people with ADD have Bipolar Disorder. Therefore, there are a number of individuals who have both ADD and Bipolar Disorder.
While there can be shared characteristics between the two syndromes, there are a few factors that can help differentiate them. ADD is a chronic problem that shows up early in childhood and manifests itself continuously throughout life. On the other hand, Bipolar Disorder is very difficult to recognize before the early teen years and when it does show up, is episodic in nature.
In my experience, more than 95% of people with ADD demonstrate markers of what I call “neuromaturational delay” such as gross or fine motor incoordination, excessive numbers of soft neurological signs, persistent articulation difficulties in childhood, or a history of bedwetting or febrile seizures. This is not the case with individuals with Bipolar Disorder.
Finally, since both problems tend to run in families, a positive family history can help point us toward the right diagnosis.
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