Telling Bipolar Disorder From PTSD As Few Symptoms Of Overlap

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder are two different mental health conditions. Although they exhibit significantly different symptoms, some of the symptoms overlap with each other. These overlapping symptoms can add complications related to diagnosis and make the treatment process difficult.

The most important aspect is to diagnose the symptoms and identify the key similarities between the two disorders.

So, what are the differences between post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder?

For example, bipolar disorder is a mood related disorder and its symptoms are primarily connected to mood and emotions. People grappling with bipolar disorder experience distinct episodes, marked by significant changes in mood and energy. They include manic episodes, hypomanic episodes followed by depressive episodes or they may experience both manic or hypomanic and depressive episodes at the same time.

On the other hand, and also as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), PTSD comes under trauma and stressor related disorder.

The cause of PTSD is linked to any traumatic event in life such as war, natural disaster, prolonged illness, accident, physical or sexual abuse, witnessing or being subjected to domestic violence, death of loved ones or near to death experience.

PTSD patients generally do not exhibit symptoms of mania such as:

  • Feeling euphoric
  • Uplifted mood
  • Feeling of grandiose
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Rushing thoughts
  • Confusing speech
  • Very less sleep, yet feeling refreshed
  • Impulsion
  • Tendency to take risk

PTSD involves traumatic symptoms such as:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Flashback of traumatic incident
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Sense of detachment
  • Pessimistic belief about self
  • Avoiding anything that reminds of the trauma
  • Experience physical stress on remembering the traumatic event

So which are the symptoms that overlap in PTSD and Bipolar Disorder?

  • Feeling guilty all the time
  • A perpetual low mood
  • Worthlessness
  • Fear
  • Difficulty in experiencing joy, optimism, happiness and affection
  • Sleep regression
  • Problem in focusing and concentrating
  • Social isolation or withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Suicidal thoughts

These symptoms might not appear in PTSD patients immediately but might get triggered if something invokes the memory of the traumatic event.

Can PTSD trigger bipolar disorder?

There is no concrete evidence that PTSD can cause bipolar disorder but a combination of brain chemistry/structure, genetics, and environmental factors may play a major role in triggering complications for bipolar disorder.

Stressful event such as a breakup, death, moving away from home, toxicity in relationships or fear of separation from loved ones can trigger both, bipolar disorder and PTSD.

Not every traumatic event can develop into PTSD or bipolar disorder. Prolonged exposure to childhood trauma can lead to development of CPTSD or complex post traumatic stress disorder.

A research, conducted in 2016, reviewed several studies and found that childhood trauma exacerbated the risk of bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts.

A nationwide study in 2016 used Danish Civil Registration System to establish potential links between schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, spectrum disorders, and a diagnosis of acute stress reaction or PTSD. The research suggests that exposure to stress or traumatic stress for longer period,  minimum for five years, compounds the risk for developing bipolar disorder and schizophrenia spectrum of disorders.

The researchers said people already enduring with bipolar disorder often experience manic episodes, which drive them to risky behavior, leading to PTSD.

Can symptoms of bipolar disorder and PTSD be misdiagnosed?

Both bipolar disorder and PTSD share common symptoms with increased chances of misdiagnosis. But the key is to identify the underlying problem. For example symptoms of PTSD do not show up until several months. Hence, mood changes or emotional fluctuations can be misdiagnosed as symptoms of bipolar disorder. Similarly depressive episodes in bipolar disorder might have a connection to any trauma, resulting in PTSD.

Patients should share all information regarding their present and past symptoms to the therapist for better diagnosis.

A therapist can help in tracing symptoms back to the cause. For example sleep regression in PTSD is connected to nightmares but in bipolar disorder it is linked to manic episodes and rushing thoughts.

Researchers also suggest that PTSD increases chances of bipolar disorder. In a study conducted in 2020, which included 212 patients suffering from bipolar disorder, found that 72 percent of the participants had experienced some kind of trauma in life while, 35 percent were diagnosed with PTSD.

According to another review done in 2017, between four to 40 percent people grappling with bipolar disorder were also diagnosed with PTSD and six to 55 percent of people with PTSD were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. More women were found with PTSD than men. People suffering from both the condition experience a low quality of life and acute symptoms.

Seek help on time

PTSD and bipolar disorder can co-occur. Treating just one condition can ease some symptoms but it will make the other condition worse. Like treating depression in PTSD with antidepressants can alleviate the symptoms of depression, but without mood stabilizers to treat manic episodes it can make bipolar disorder worse.

Both bipolar disorder and PTSD can be treated with professional support, but treatment needs to be customized. Therefore, it’s imperative to consult an experienced professional who can identify and distinguish between the two conditions.

We, at Medical Concierge, provide evidence-based therapies, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs and residential programs for treating mental health condition and co-occurring disorders. Our PTSD treatment centers are best in California. We provide customized treatment programs based on patients’ medical assessment at our post traumatic stress treatment centers. To know more call us today at 877-636-0042.

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