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Early Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis - It's Not That Easy!

Nov 4, 2007
Diagnosing bipolar disorder has always been tricky, particularly for doctors and therapists. If there was a laboratory test or x-ray that could give a definitive bipolar disorder diagnosis, preliminary investigations by doctors would provide a much clearer result.

This lack of quantifiable analysis is part of the reason for the difficulty in determining whether the symptoms indicate mental illness or not. Accurate diagnosis is usually only reached after careful analysis of behaviour, thought patterns and consultation with family and loved ones.

Why Accurate Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Is So Tricky

Symptoms indicating a bipolar disorder diagnosis could also indicate other physical or mental conditions. This makes it even more difficult to provide the appropriate treatment. For example, prescribing pain relief for the physical symptoms instead of digging deeper to identify psychological problems could be quite disastrous for the patient.

This problem is further exacerbated when patients displaying physical signs related to a potential bipolar disorder diagnosis consult their medical doctor and not a psychiatrist. As the average general practitioner is not specially trained to easily recognize mental disease, bipolar can often remain undiagnosed until the condition is well advanced. This can result in escalated episodes involving police, ambulance and drastic treatment for the patient.

The Main Issues Affecting Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

There are several issues for therapists and doctors to carefully take into account when making a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

1. Ignoring international standards. Although an international standard exists for making a bipolar disorder diagnosis, many therapists and medical practitioners simply disregard it. This results in a patient becoming confused by getting different diagnoses from several different practitioners.

2. Self-denial. There has always been a negative connotation or stigma attached to the condition of bipolar disorder, commonly known as manic depression. This is one of the main reasons for bipolar sufferers retreating into self-denial, ignoring their symptoms with a "head-in-the-sand" approach. Instead of investigating a possible bipolar disorder diagnosis when the illness begins, the patient ignores the warning signs and does nothing about it. This approach only serves to increase the symptoms and advance the condition further than if the illness had been properly diagnosed early on.

3. Limitations of some general practitioners. Some general practitioners and medical doctors are experienced and qualified only in treating medical and physical conditions. Doctors in this category are not qualified to diagnose a mental or psychological illness. This risk in consulting with this type of doctor is getting symptoms treated as opposed to investigating the real source of the problem.

The psychological symptoms of bipolar disorder can also be difficult to detect, even by experts. Many symptoms can easily be mistaken for the symptoms of other psychological illnesses such as major depressive disorders, schizophrenia, substance-induced mood disorders, or mood disorders caused by medical conditions.

Even highly experienced psychiatrists and mental health experts can have difficulty reaching an accurate bipolar disorder diagnosis. It is therefore wise to avoid mis-diagnosis and seek help from a qualified mental health professional when symptoms and behavioral changes first start occurring. This at least gives a good chance of the illness being properly managed so that the crippling effects can be minimized.
About the Author
Jean Littman co-owns BipolarClues.com with husband Ray Hogan, who has lived a normal, stable life with bipolar for many years. Providing quality tools and resources for bipolar disorder and manic depression.
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