Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose as:
- its onset is often marked by a depressive period and it can therefore be misdiagnosed as depression
- depressive symptoms are common in bipolar disorder – usually more prevalent than hypomanic or manic symptoms
- ‘mixed mood’ episodes are common. These might obscure detection of mania and hypomania, as people report more depressive symptoms when seeking treatment.
For some people, it can take years before their illness is accurately diagnosed and treated.
Doctors have come a long way in fully understanding different moods in bipolar disorder and in making an accurate diagnosis. It wasn’t that long ago when bipolar disorder was confused with other disorders such as unipolar depression or with schizophrenia(a serious mental illness with symptoms of incoherent speech, delusions, and hallucinations). With the greater understanding of mental disorders today, doctors can identify the signs and symptoms of bipolar depression, hypomania, and mania, and most cases, treat the disorder effectively and safely with bipolar medications.
Most of us have become used to specialized blood tests or other laboratory measures to help our doctors make an accurate diagnosis. However, most lab tests or imaging tests are not useful in diagnosing bipolar disorder. In fact, the most important diagnostic tool may be talking openly with the doctor about your mood swings, behaviors, and lifestyle habits.
While a physical examination can reveal a patient’s overall state of health, the doctor must hear about the bipolar signs and symptoms from the patient in order to effectively diagnose and treat bipolar disorder