Bipolar Disorder: Differential Diagnosis

One of the biggest challenges for people with mood swings is an accurate diagnosis. Doctors must rule out any medical conditions and medications that could explain the symptoms.

A head injury, stroke, delirium, thyroid disorders, lupus, substance abuse, and HIV infection can cause symptoms that mimic bipolar disorder. In addition, commonly used medications like corticosteroids (for example, prednisone), used to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, as well as thyroid medication for hypothyroidism can cause mood swings.

Another barrier to an accurate diagnosis is that most people visit their doctor for depressive rather than manic symptoms and are subsequently diagnosed with major depression. In addition, people with bipolar disorder often have a co-occurring anxiety condition (like obsessive-compulsive disorder) that can complicate the diagnosis.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 03 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 20 Jun 2013