Why Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder are Commonly Misdiagnosed

The diagnosis of a personality disorder or mood disorder is made based on a set list of criteria for each disorder, which is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry (DSM). It is usually clear whether a person has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Bipolar Disorder, but due to the similarity in symptoms between the two disorders, misdiagnosis is common.

A recent report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 40 percent of people diagnosed with BPD had been misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Another study published in the journal determined that people who score positive on the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (used to screen for the presence of mood disorders) are just as likely to be diagnosed with BPD as Bipolar Disorder. About 24 percent of people who scored positively on the questionnaire were diagnosed as bipolar and about 28 percent as having BPD.

Similar BPD and Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

People with either Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder are likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Impulsivity
  • Unstable mood
  • Irritability and anger
  • Depression
  • Poor social functioning
  • Suicide attempts

Difference in Mood Changes

One of the major differences between BPD and Bipolar Disorder is the length of mood swings. People with BPD may cycle through different moods in the span of a few hours or days. People with Bipolar Disorder, on the other hand, experience mood swings that can last for weeks or months.

What prompts changes in mood also differs between the two disorders. For people with BPD, a mood change might be prompted by something that happened at work, with a significant other, or another type of stressor. People with Bipolar Disorder can experience extreme changes in mood for no particular reason.

Treatment for BPD and Bipolar Disorder

Both Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder can be effectively treated through a combination of therapy and medication. However, it is important to receive a proper diagnosis before determining the most effective course of treatment.

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