Differences Between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder in Children

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Differences Between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder in Children

Topic Overview

Bipolar disorder in children and teens and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) share some similar characteristics. It is possible for a child to have both conditions, but certain characteristics help distinguish one from the other:

Comparing symptoms of bipolar disorder and ADHD
Symptoms of bipolar disorder Symptoms of ADHD
The child throws violent, destructive temper tantrums that can last for hours. The child hits, kicks, destroys property, and may threaten to harm someone else. The child throws temper tantrums that usually last for only minutes, and he or she does not usually destroy property.
The child can act as though he or she is losing touch with reality during a temper tantrum. The child does not lose touch with reality during a temper tantrum.
Mood swings and strange behaviours occur unpredictably. The child may be withdrawn or irritable one moment and extremely happy or giddy the next. The child has difficult behaviours (such as hyperactivity) that are fairly consistent. He or she can get very happy or silly.
The child's response to external events is prolonged and out of proportion to the event. The child's reaction to external events is not extreme and is resolved in a normal amount of time.
The child shows signs of hypersexuality (talking or thinking about sex, having sex, or using sexual language). The child can show some signs of sexually inappropriate behaviour, but the behaviour is usually not severe or the child can be distracted from this behaviour.
Sleep disturbances and inability to sleep occur periodically. The child often has plenty of energy despite not getting much sleep. Sleep disturbances and inability to sleep are long-term (chronic). The child is usually tired when he or she does not get enough sleep.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David A. Axelson, MD - Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Last Revised June 7, 2011

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