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How to Identify Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorders

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Identifying Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorders MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are two different conditions that are often confused with each other because both include some similar symptoms.

Identifying which disorder an individual has is an important step in determining the correct treatment.

Bipolar Disorder

This condition was formerly known as manic depression. A person with bipolar disorder has dramatic mood swings that range from excessively “high” or manic to depressed.

These different states can last from days to months, with periods of normal moods in between.

During mania, people with bipolar disorder may feel very happy, irritated or angry. They may have more energy and be more active than normal, and may sleep less without feeling tired. They often talk more and faster than normal and may feel their thoughts are racing in their heads.

Mania may include risk taking, making big plans or having low impulse control which can lead to substance abuse, inappropriate sexual activity, spending money unwisely or other behaviors.

During depression, they may feel a lingering sadness, or be restless and irritable. They often have lower energy and experience changes in sleeping and eating patterns. They may feel worried, anxious, guilty, hopeless or suicidal, and may have difficulty concentrating,

Borderline Personality Disorder

Individuals with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, experience a pattern of swings but they also have difficulty in other areas of life including relationships, self-image and behavior.

They are often at risk of having other mental health problems, and it is more likely that they may have had some type of trauma during childhood than someone with bipolar disorder.

People with BPD have very strong emotions and have difficulty controlling their thoughts and feelings. They are often impulsive and reckless and may try to hurt themselves.

They tend to have intense, unstable relationships and often experience mood swings triggered by stress in their relationships. People with borderline personality disorder often struggle with feelings of abandonment.


Although some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are similar, there are noticeable differences between the two conditions.

1) Onset of symptoms
For someone with BPD, the symptoms of the condition come out as part of their basic personality. This includes difficulty interacting with other people and the world in general, usually starting in adolescence or younger.

This differs from bipolar disorder, in which the individual baseline for both emotion and behavior are normal. Mood swings connected with bipolar episodes are noticeably different from the person’s normal self.

2) Timing of symptoms
In borderline personality disorder, events that would normally not be significant motivators often cause excessively large or painful reactions. Mood changes can occur from minute to minute or hour to hour, and often have a notable trigger such as frustration or a fear of being abandoned.

Bipolar symptoms differ in that mood swings often last for days or weeks rather than cycling many times in one day. Changes in mood may have an apparent trigger or may have no obvious cause.

3) Type of symptoms

People with BPD tend toward negative emotions including feeling irritable, angry, sad or empty. Euphoric or excessively happy feelings are not common for people with this disorder.

This differs from people with bipolar disorder who swing between depression and mania. Although mania can include extreme anger or irritability, it is more likely to bring feelings of euphoria or grand plans and ideas.

Both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder typically require lifelong treatment, which may include medication and therapy to manage symptoms.

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is a crucial step in determining which medications and other treatments will be most effective for each individual patient.

If you have questions about bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, talk to your health care professional.


WebMD. Borderline Personality Disorder vs. Bipolar Disorder. Web. February 18, 2015.

PsychCentral. BipolarBeat: Difference Between Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Candida Fink, MD. Web. February 18, 2015.

Psychology Today. Three Ways to Differentiate Bipolar and Borderline Disorders. Randi Kreger. Web. February 18, 2015.

Reviewed February 19, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Bipolar Disorder

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