Doctors Blaming All Physical Pain on Bipolar Disorder

Doctors Blaming All Physical Pain on Bipolar Disorder

One of the annoying things about having a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder is that doctors blame all physical pain on bipolar disorder. It feels like if you have a hangnail it must be because of bipolar. It feels like the pain from a broken leg must be from bipolar disorder. Doctors just seem to leap to the conclusion that bipolar is always to blame even when other physical ailments are or may be present.

Physical Pain and Bipolar Disorder

I have talked before about how bipolar disorder can include physical pain for some people. I have also talked about how bipolar disorder can amplify existing pain. I can’t explain either phenomenon but I know they exist.

So I do understand that if you go to a doctor and complain of vague pain, they may want to blame it on bipolar disorder. However, this doesn’t mean that bipolar disorder is always to blame.

Bipolar Disorder and Fibromyalgia

People with bipolar disorder can experience physical ailments like everyone else but doctors tend to blame all physical ailments on bipolar -- often unfairly.Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is comorbid (co-exists) with many conditions including fibromyalgia, according to a recent meta-analysis. This analysis looked at nine studies and found that a comorbidity of bipolar disorder in fibromyalgia of 21%. In contrast, in the general population, bipolar disorder occurs in about 2-4%, depending on how you define bipolar disorder. In other words, in those with fibromyalgia, there is a 5-10 times greater incidence of bipolar disorder. (Unfortunately, the link going the other way doesn’t seem to have been investigated yet.)

Additionally, this 2016 study suggests a shared pathophysiology between bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia.

In other words, just because you’re reporting pain, it doesn’t mean that pain is only because of the bipolar disorder. And, unfortunately, doctors seem to refuse to look beyond the bipolar disorder for a reason. Of course, it also doesn’t mean you necessarily have fibromyalgia either, but it can mean that you are suffering from some other illness. (And I don’t need to mention that physical complaints can indicate something very severe such as the early stages of cancer.)

Need for Pain Medication in Bipolar Disorder

Additionally, if you are in pain and you have bipolar disorder, many doctors won’t prescribe pain medication because they assume you are drug-seeking. Yes, it’s true that more than 50% of people with bipolar disorder have had a substance abuse problem in their lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that every one of us is drug-seeking. It also doesn’t mean that our pain isn’t real and doesn’t deserve treatment – just like everyone else.

Every Physical Pain Is Not Bipolar-Related

Doctors (and patients) need to remember that not every physical pain is because of bipolar disorder. Yes, when you have a brain disorder, it can affect every aspect of your being, but that doesn’t mean that other illnesses don’t or can’t exist as well.

So if your doctor is writing off your genuine, chronic, physical complaints as only being related to bipolar disorder – don’t believe him or her. Doctors often write us off but we don’t deserve that. Be persistent. Present research if you have it. Or even find another doctor. We deserve quality healthcare treatment and the prejudice that some doctors show against those with bipolar disorder should not stop us.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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