Panic Attacks
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Difficult to Function - When Bipolar Disorder and Panic Attacks Combine

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
Difficult to Function - When Bipolar Disorder and Panic Attacks Combine

Bipolar disorder and panic disorder are two mental conditions that can be highly disruptive to an individual’s ability to function. Unfortunately, they are also very likely to coincide, having what mental health professionals call a “high rate of comorbidity.” In fact, roughly one in every five persons with bipolar disorder also experiences panic disorder.

This article will provide an overview of how to tell panic attacks from the manic states typical of bipolar disorder, the factors that make it more likely for you to have panic disorder, and what you can do to treat your panic disorder if you are also suffering from bipolar disorder.

Panic vs. Manic – How to Tell the Difference

Both bipolar disorder and panic attacks are difficult conditions. But they're also treatable. They simply take a commitment to treating and the willingness to try different solutions until you find one that works for you. 

Manic states in people with bipolar disorder cause feelings of being high strung and out of control, which may be difficult to differentiate from panic attacks. However, there are certain symptoms that divide manic episodes from panic attacks. Compare the following symptoms to find out if you may have a concurrent panic disorder alongside your bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder include:

These are both symptoms of mania and symptoms of anxiety, which is why some people confuse the two. It's the following additional symptoms that are specific to mania:

If you experience all of the above symptoms on a regular basis, alternating with major depression, you are likely suffering from bipolar disorder. If you regularly experience the above symptoms but not the latter, you may only be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Panic attacks can occur in the midst of either manic or depressive states in people with bipolar disorder, though they are more likely to occur during manic states. A legitimate panic attack involves 4 or more of the following symptoms:

A panic attack usually peaks after 10 minutes of a combination of the above symptoms. If the panic attacks are occurring due to panic disorder, they often have no specific trigger and occur without warning.

Signs that Increase the Likelihood of Concurrent Disorders

Bipolar disorder and panic disorder are two entirely different disorders. Despite some of their similarities, they are diagnosed separately, because one involves severe panic attacks and a fear of panic attacks, and one involves severe depression and a manic state.

If you feel that you have anxiety often, especially after mania, and you experience panic attacks or find yourself "clued in" to the way your body feels on a regular basis, your chances of developing both increases. It should also be noted that panic attacks increase your risk of developing depression. But you have to have mania for it to be considered bipolar disorder.

No matter what, the risk of severe depression from panic attacks makes it even more important to treat your anxiety and your bipolar disorder quickly.

How to Treat Co-Occurring Anxiety and Bipolar Disorders

Because of the extreme behavior and physical effects associated with both bipolar disorder and panic disorder, it is important to seek professional help if you believe you are suffering from either or both. The following treatment tips will point you in the right direction towards what kind of help you should seek from others, and also what you can do yourself to work towards overcoming your disorders.

Both bipolar disorder and panic attacks are treatable. It's a challenge because these disorders build on each other, and often you have to find the right treatment before it will work, but you can overcome both bipolar disorder and panic attacks if you commit to treatment.

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