Bipolar Disorder Risk Factors Found in Families

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Children who grow up in families where other mental disorders are present — such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety — appear to be at greater risk for developing bipolardisorder later in life, according to new research.

Researchers still do not know what causes bipolar disorder, although it is argued that family history is presently the strongest predictive factor for being diagnosed with bipolar. If an older relative has bipolar disorder, you are at greater risk for developing it.

In the present longitudinal study, led by John Nurnberger from the Indiana University School of Medicine, examined the lifetime prevalence and early clinical predictors for psychiatric disorders in 141 high-risk children and adolescents from families with a history of bipolar disorder.

The researchers found a significant difference between the high-risk families and a group of healthy control families. By age 17, the lifetime prevalence of a major affective disorder (such as depression or bipolar disorder) was more than 23 percent in the high-risk cases, but only just about 4 percent in children of mentally healthy controls.

Overall, the prevalence of bipolar disorder was 8.5 percent in the high-risk cohort, while no bipolar disorder was reported in the control group. The risk for developing bipolar disorder was more than 5 times greater in the children of families with bipolar disorder than in those from the families in the control group.

In high-risk children a childhood diagnosis of an anxiety disorder or a childhood disorder like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) significantly predicted the onset of major affective disorders later in life.

Children who were in families where others were diagnosed with anxiety or similar kinds of childhood disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) appear to be at significantly greater risk for developing bipolar disorder than children who lived in families without these disorders present.

“[Our results] reinforce the importance of family history in evaluating the meaning of diagnoses in children and adolescents,” wrote the researchers, “and they support a different monitoring and management strategy for children and adolescents with a positive family history of bipolar disorder.”

The article appears in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

By Psych Central News Editor

Psych Central

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