Last updated:

September 2, 2022

5

 min read

5 Conditions That Can Be Misdiagnosed As ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurobehavioral disorder affecting millions of children every year. Its symptoms can usually be noticed during a person's early school years. However, since there is a wide range of ADHD symptoms, some of them can overlap with symptoms of autism, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder, among others. Due to such overlaps, different mental health concerns are often misdiagnosed as ADHD (and vice versa).

Reviewed by
Ekata
Written by
Aadya Varma
TABLE OF CONTENTS

What is ADHD?

ADHD, as its name suggests, is characterised by symptoms like difficulty focusing, following instructions, controlling impulses, and hyperfixation and hyperactivity. While people exhibit most ADHD symptoms even before turning 12, the implications of these symptoms persist throughout the rest of their lives. 

ADHD, especially when misdiagnosed, can cause serious problems in your personal and work lives. This can, in turn, result in low self-esteem, inability to stick to deadlines, time blindness (not being able to gauge how long something can take), procrastination, and finding it difficult to finish tasks and projects. 

On the other hand, it can be a reason for concern when other mental health concerns are diagnosed as ADHD. This prevents people from getting proper medical help; plus, if they are medicated for ADHD, it can also worsen their existing issues. 

Next, let us look at the reasons why an ADHD misdiagnosis is prevalent despite it seeming like a no-brainer that misdiagnoses are pretty ineffective.

What Can Lead to Misdiagnosis? 

Some common symptoms of ADHD look very similar to several other clusters of disorders. Due to this, a lot of people end up receiving an incorrect diagnosis. 

Here are a few disorders whose symptoms are commonly misdiagnosed as ADHD:

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Many children with symptoms previously linked with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, can receive an ADHD misdiagnosis before a paediatrician concludes it as Asperger's. This is because a lot of people on the autism spectrum show signs of ADHD. Some of these overlapping signs are:

  • Restlessness
  • Impulsivity
  • Trouble navigating social situations
  • Being able to only focus only on things of interest

Clinical Depression 

While clinical depression is common in adults with ADHD, depressive symptoms do not always indicate a full-blown treatment-resistant condition. 

In fact, what ADHD can lead to is classified as 'secondary depression', which is triggered by the frustration of coping with symptoms of ADHD (especially untreated). People with ADHD can find it difficult to get started and focus on difficult or boring tasks. But depression can also cause these problems in a person's life. 

This is why it is important to figure out during someone's diagnosis whether their depression is primary or secondary to ADHD.

Bipolar Disorder

Certain symptoms of bipolar disorder can mirror signs of ADHD, causing frequent misdiagnosis in children and young adults. These symptoms can look like:

  • Altering between getting in a great mood for days without any apparent reasons and depressive episodes characterised by a lack of interest in activities 
  •  Fast and even incomprehensible speech patterns
  •  Feeling so energised that the person can function without resting

Anxiety

Getting overwhelmed easily, fidgeting, and losing focus are some symptoms prevalent among people experiencing anxiety and ADHD. Plus, many people with ADHD can also develop anxiety to compensate for certain ADHD symptoms.  

Most clinicians view anxiety and ADHD as separate conditions with different treatments. They take their time to run a comprehensive assessment to check whether a patient is struggling with ADHD, anxiety, or both. The final call on which one should be treated first usually depends on which condition is seen as the dominant problem. 

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Numerous studies have reported that ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) share certain symptoms and risk factors. ODD is associated with impulse-control issues, and people with ODD might struggle with dishonesty, refusing to complete their tasks, irritability, and frequent conflicts with authority figures.

However, children with ADHD only exhibit aggressive or defiant behaviours at times. This aggression and frustration stem from the difficulty faced by people with ADHD in accurately perceiving and explaining their emotions. This can eventually lead to misdiagnosis too.

A Few Other Things to Keep in Mind

Age and sex are important in determining whether there has been a misdiagnosis. For instance, the earlier a child starts school, the more likely they are to be diagnosed with ADHD. Research has also found that kids born in December had higher chances of receiving an ADHD diagnosis than those born in January.

When it comes to gender, several studies suggest boys receive a diagnosis of ADHD more often and easily than girls, as girls tend to display more symptoms of inattention than boys. On the other hand, boys show symptoms of hyperactivity, which are more noticeable.

Need Help?

By now, you can see how many ADHD symptoms intersect with the symptoms of certain mood disorders, other forms of neurodivergence, and so on. That is why it is crucial to select a good psychiatrist or therapist if you are showing symptoms of ADHD and want a proper diagnosis and/or therapeutic support.

Not sure where to begin? Rocket Health’s team of experienced mental health professionals are just a click away to answer all your questions and provide you the support you need - be it therapy or medication. Looking for a diagnosis? Our clinical psychologists offer you a non-judgmental space to express your concerns and provide you with the right treatment!

Get started by taking this free assessment today!