Risk factors for bipolar disorder found in families

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder found in families

By Liz Lockhart

There appears to be a greater risk for developing bipolar disorder in children who grow up in families where other mental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety, are present, according to new research.   

The causes of bipolar disorder are not fully known, although it is argued that a family history is presently the strongest predictive factor for being diagnosed with bipolar.  You are at greater of risk for developing it if an older relative already has bipolar disorder.

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

The article appears in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

A significant difference between the high-risk families and a group of healthy families was found by the researchers.  By the age of 17, the lifetime prevalence of a major affective disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, was more that 23% in the high-risk cases.  In the mentally healthy group this fell to just 4%.

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

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

The children of families where others were diagnosed with anxiety or similar kinds of childhood disorders (ADHD for example) appear to be at a significantly higher risk of developing bipolar disorder than the children of families without these disorders.

Source: Archives of General Psychiatry 

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