How Do You Diagnose Bipolar?
Even when you suspect that you or someone you care about may be struggling with bipolar episodes, it’s natural to put off the option of a professional diagnosis. Many people fear the stigma of a bipolar diagnosis, wonder what it would change, or are wary of misdiagnosis, but when you’re ready for help, here’s where to start.
Where to Start for an Accurate Bipolar Diagnosis
When confronted with the possibility that you or someone you care about may be dealing with bipolar episodes, you may find yourself seeking out online questionnaires and articles for clarity. While that may be a useful starting point for some, it’s always important to remember that there’s no replacement for professional guidance and the confirmation of an official diagnosis. Only a professional can help you understand the often subtle differences between bipolar disorder, emotional dysregulation, and maladaptive behavior and how to treat each.
Understanding Misdiagnosed Bipolar
Even with a professional diagnosis, however, there’s still a risk of misdiagnosis. In fact, 69 percent of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder are initially misdiagnosed, and around 30 percent of those people remain misdiagnosed for a decade or more. How can you be confident that the diagnosis of you or someone you care about will be accurate?
There’s no easy answer to this question, but it starts by doing your research and knowing what questions to ask. You can begin by asking a trusted family doctor for a referral, but don’t expect the conversation to end there—that’s just the start. From there, you can inquire about diagnostic testing criteria, and the more holistic the testing, the more credible the diagnosis.
In our experience, we’ve found that trauma-related emotional dysregulation is frequently misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder when careful attention isn’t given to symptomatic patterns. In these cases, treatment modalities and therapies may look similar in practice, but bipolar medication does not effectively treat emotional dysregulation. That’s why it’s critical to find a professional who is well versed in the subtle distinctions between bipolar and other emotional issues.
The Risks of Undiagnosed Bipolar
While misdiagnosed bipolar certainly comes with its own risks and challenges, the dangers of undiagnosed bipolar generally outweigh those of misdiagnosis. That’s because it’s impossible to predict the intensity or severity of future episodes, and without understanding underlying triggers, the possibility of an episode leading to irreversible, life-altering consequences increases.
If you’re ready to speak with a team who can help you gain clarity about a potential diagnosis, talk to the dedicated bipolar specialists at PCH today. Let’s Talk
Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Tests
A comprehensive bipolar disorder diagnosis test should include a holistic assessment comprised of:
A Physical Exam
While it may sound counterintuitive to conduct a physical exam to diagnose bipolar, it’s critical to understand if any underlying medical problems could be the cause of symptoms. By confirming that you’re in good physical shape, it’s easier for professionals to eliminate other potential causes. It’s also essential to gain an understanding of how lifestyle choices like physical activity, diet, and sleep relate to—and can even fuel—bipolar tendencies.
A Psychiatric Assessment
If you’re physically fit, the next step is working with a psychiatrist to discuss your thoughts, feelings, and mood patterns. Following a physical exam, only a professional psychiatric assessment can confirm or rule out a bipolar diagnosis. Keep in mind that you should be aware of the risks of misdiagnosis as discussed above.
Before confirming or negating a diagnosis, your psychiatrist may ask you to keep a daily log of your moods, sleep patterns, and diet. With these details, your specialist can gain insight into other potential causes of symptoms and confirm or rule out bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder Criteria
Once the above tests have been conducted and the necessary information has been collected, a psychiatrist will compare your symptoms and patterns with those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5). From there, you can find out if the challenges you’re facing are related to bipolar I, bipolar II, or another mental issue altogether.
Reach out to PCH When You’re Ready
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar in the past and you’re questioning the initial diagnosis, or you suspect someone you care about may be exhibiting bipolar tendencies, reach out today. We work hand-in-hand with you to identify the root causes of mental challenges to uncover the ideal treatment path toward well-being. When you’re ready to get started, send us a message or give us a call.