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Differences Between Bipolar II and ADHD

By Lia Stannard ; Updated August 14, 2017

Bipolar disorder II and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are two disorders caused by abnormal wiring in the brain. The Mayo Clinic states that bipolar disorder II is a type of the mood disorder where the patient has depression and hypomania, which is a slightly elevated mood. ADD is also a psychological disorder, one where the patient has mainly inattention problems, but may also have hyperactivity. Both disorders impact how the patient functions but differ in behavior and treatment.

Changes in Mood

With bipolar disorder II the patient has long periods of depression, with symptoms like sadness, guilt, irritability, fatigue, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. The patient also experiences periods of hypomania, which includes an inflated self-esteem, aggressive behavior, agitation and racing thoughts; the hypomania is less severe than the mania found in bipolar disorder I, another bipolar disorder type. A patient with ADD does not have as many mood problems as a bipolar disorder II patient, though she can be more energetic, talk excessively and fidget.

Problems Getting Work Done

Because the main symptom of ADD is inattention, the patient has a hard time getting his work done. The Mayo Clinic notes that the patient has trouble maintaining attention while working on a task, which results in careless mistakes. The patient may appear to not be listening and has problems following directions. In addition, an ADD patient is also easily distracted and forgetful.

A bipolar disorder II patient, on the other hand, has problems maintaining attention during both depressive and hypomanic phases, but the concentration problems are not as severe as in ADD. Instead, the patient has an increased drive to do more work during hypomania.

Inappropriate Behaviors

Behavioral problems are seen most during the hypomanic phase of bipolar disorder II. The patient may display more aggressive behaviors and lash out at people close to her or become agitated more easily. Hypomanic patients are more likely to participate in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and shopping sprees when the patient does not have enough money to cover the purchases.

More behavioral problems occur with ADD, especially if the patient is hyperactive. For example, a child with ADD will leave her seat or climb on things at inappropriate times, such as during class. The patient is also unable to play quietly. In addition, the patient will blurt out answers and interrupt other people while they are talking.

Different Medications

Different medications are used to treat each disorder and help the patient manage her symptoms. The Mayo Clinic states that stimulants and nonstimulants are the medications of choice with ADD, as they help the patient focus and control his impulsive behavior. Methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine and dextroamphetamine-ampetamine are examples of stimulants, and atomoxetine is an example of a nonstimulant. Mood stabilizers, like lithium, valproic acid, lamotrigine and divalproex, help manage both depression and hypomania symptoms of bipolar disorder II.

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