Having parents with bipolar disorder associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders

March 2, 2009

Children and teens of parents with bipolar disorder appear to have an increased risk of early-onset bipolar disorder, mood disorders and anxiety disorders, according to a report in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

As many as 60 percent of patients with bipolar disorder experience symptoms before age 21, according to background information in the article. Identifying the condition early may improve long-term outcomes, potentially preventing high psychosocial and medical costs. Having family members with bipolar disorder is the best predictor of whether an individual will go on to develop the condition, the authors note. "Therefore, carefully evaluating and prospectively following the psychopathology of offspring of parents with bipolar disorder and comparing them with offspring of parents with and without non-bipolar disorder psychopathology, are critical for identifying the early clinical presentation of bipolar disorder," they write.

Boris Birmaher, M.D., of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and colleagues compared 388 offspring (ages 6 to 18) of 233 parents with bipolar disorder to 251 offspring of 143 demographically matched control parents. Parents were assessed for psychiatric disorders, family psychiatric history, family environment and other variables, and were also interviewed about their children. Children were assessed directly for bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders by researchers who did not know their parents' diagnoses.

Compared with the offspring of control parents, children of parents with bipolar disorder had an increased risk of having a bipolar spectrum disorder (41 or 10.6 percent vs. two or 0.8 percent) and having any mood or anxiety disorder. Children in families where both parents had bipolar disorders also were more likely than those in families containing one parent with bipolar disorder to develop the condition (four of 14 or 28.6 percent vs. 37 of 374 or 9.9 percent); however, their risk for other psychiatric disorders was the same as offspring of one parent with bipolar disorder.

"Consistent with the literature, most parents with bipolar disorder recollected that their illness started before age 20 years and about 20 percent had illness that started before age 13 years," the authors write. "In contrast, most of their children developed their first bipolar disorder episode before age 12 years, suggesting the possibility that parents were more perceptive of their children's symptoms early in life or perhaps that bipolar disorder has more penetrance and manifests earlier in new generations."

More information: Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66[3]:287-296.

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals

Explore further: Study looks at ADHD treatment in teens at risk for bipolar disorder

Related Stories

ER visits, wait times up for US psychiatric patients

October 18, 2016

(HealthDay)—One in five emergency physicians polled said they've had psychiatric patients who needed hospitalization who had to wait two to five days before being assigned an inpatient bed. The findings from the survey ...

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.