Is Bipolar Hereditary Possible Genetic & Biological Links
Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
Bipolar disorder is one of the most common mental health disorders and affects millions of people worldwide, but did you know that having a family member with the disorder may increase the risk of it? This article will discuss the possible connection between genetics and bipolar disorder and other implications that it may have.
Does Bipolar Disorder Run In Families?
Studies show that genetics can certainly be a factor when it comes to someone developing bipolar disorder.
According to the Black Dog Institute, approximately 80 percent of all cases of bipolar disorder are hereditary, and if one parent has bipolar disorder, this increases the likelihood of their child developing the condition later in life by approximately 10 percent.
Now, if both parents have the condition, its estimated that this increases the odds to 40 percent.
In addition to parents, when taking a look at twin studies, its estimated that the chances of both having bipolar disorder could be up to 60 to 80 percent.
These types of statistics show that the odds of someone having bipolar disorder increases based on how close the relative is – people who have a parent or a sibling with the condition are more at risk.
It is also rare that the disorder affects multiple family members across different generations, and many cases of bipolar disorder are isolated ones.
What Genetic Mechanisms Are Responsible For Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder In Children And Teens
Bipolar disorders are most common in older adolescents and teens, but children can also be diagnosed with the disorder at a younger age. While not nearly as common in children as it is in adults, research studies have revealed that bipolar disorder affects as many as 3% of all children and up to 7% of children receiving outpatient psychiatric care. Bipolar disorder has been diagnosed in children as young as 5. When young children experience symptoms, this is called early-onset bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is more likely to affect the children of parents who have the disorder. When one parent has bipolar disorder, the risk to each child is l5 to 30%. When both parents have bipolar disorder, the risk increases to 50 to 75%.
Bipolar in kids also causes distinct mood episodes from mania or hypomania to depression. However, because kids and adolescents can act out, have difficulty in school or at home, and display some of the symptoms of bipolar disorders, like restlessness, impulsivity, risky behaviors, and an inflated view of capabilities, even when they dont have the disorder, it can be difficult to diagnose.
Bipolar Disorder In Women And During Pregnancy
Women and people with bipolar II disorder are significantly more likely to experience periods of rapid cycling than men with the same condition. Other research findings indicate that women with bipolar disorder may have more depressive episodes and more mixed episodes than do men with the illness.
Pregnancy and the postpartum period can exacerbate bipolar disorder symptoms. The body goes through so many hormonal changes and women who already have an underlying bipolar disorder can have their symptoms exacerbated by these changes, explains Dr. Narasimhan. Crazy enough, sometimes women who dont have bipolar disorders can develop one in the postpartum period. Called postpartum bipolar onset, the mood disorder may resolve itself after the postpartum period or it can sometimes remain.
The general consensus is that when theres severe mental illness, and someone gets pregnant, its not the time to take them off medication, Dr. Narasimhan says. That said, you have to have an honest discussion and know which medications have some risk during pregnancy and which can affect the fetus, she says. Oftentimes the risk of not being on medication is worse than the risk of stopping the medication. Dr. Narasimhan also says she has plenty of patients who dont want to take their medication during pregnancy, and for these patients, they weigh the risks and benefits carefully.
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Understanding Bipolar And Genetics
“What can you do, bipolar runs in our family,” my mother said as she shrugged with a childlike innocence. Although she had dealt with bipolar disorder for over fifty years, this was her first admission that the disease could be hereditary.
This admission sounded liberating, like the heavy weight of shame and stigma were lifted from her shoulders. Her episodes were still random and somewhat mysterious, but it all fit into a much bigger landscape.
Although my mother had heard that bipolar disorder was hereditary, it wasnt until she was seventy years old that she made this statement. But what does it mean that bipolar is hereditary?
Who Is At Risk For Mood Disorders
Anyone can feel sad or depressed at times. However, mood disorders are more intense and harder to manage than normal feelings of sadness. Children, teens, or adults who have a parent with a mood disorder have a greater chance of also having a mood disorder. However, life events and stress can expose or worsen feelings of sadness or depression. This makes the feelings harder to manage.
Sometimes, life’s problems can trigger depression. Being fired from a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one, death in the family, and financial trouble, to name a few, all can be difficult and coping with the pressure may be troublesome. These life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression or make a mood disorder harder to manage.
The risk of depression in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men. Once a person in the family has this diagnosis, their brothers, sisters, or children have a higher chance of the same diagnosis. In addition, relatives of people with depression are also at increased risk for bipolar disorder .
Once a person in the family has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the chance for their brothers, sisters, or children to have the same diagnosis is increased. Relatives of people with bipolar are also at increased risk for depression.
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The Genetics Of Bipolar Disorder
Though it runs in families, it is harder to define specific genetic risk factors. Studies looking at the genetics of bipolar disorder have failed to find a single gene which is causative Rather, it appears that there are several chromosomal regions with many genes each of which has a small effect in raising the susceptibility to the disorder.
Variants in genes such as ANK3, CACNA1C, NCAN, ODZ4 and are thought to increase susceptibility but explain only a very small percentage of the genetic risk. In addition, the majority of people with these “at-risk alleles” do not have bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder And Changing Expectations
A major challenge facing families of manic-depressive patients is the formation of realistic expectations both of the mental health system and of the family member with bipolar.
a) Mental Health SystemWhen families bring their ill member for medical help, they often expect a firm diagnosis and a clear cut bipolar treatment regimen, which will quickly and permanently cure the illness. They then expect the relative to resume normal life immediately following treatment.
It is usually only after several experiences of trial medications, many disappointments at the hospital and at home over unfulfilled expectations that the family starts to appreciate the somewhat nebulous nature of the manic-depressive illness. The illness has no clear cut beginning or end. There are often residual impairments and ongoing vulnerabilities after acute treatment. The family must start taking into account the limitations of the mental health system both in terms of knowledge base and resources.
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Possible Causes And Risk Factors Of Bipolar Disorder
Unfortunately, science hasnt been able to pinpoint the exact cause of bipolar disorder just yet. However, doctors and researchers do believe that several different factors may come into play when a person is diagnosed such as their genetics, brain chemistry and environmental factors.
Plus, having other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or even PTSD can further increase the likelihood of a person developing bipolar disorder.
People who have an immediate family member, such as a parent or sibling, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder appear to have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder compared to someone who does not have any immediate family members with this disorder.
One thing you should understand is that getting such a severe mental health diagnosis is not something that you brought upon yourself. There are no known ways to prevent developing bipolar disorder either.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated In A Teen
Treatment will depend on your teens symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment can often help a teen with bipolar disorder get better. But it will take time. Treatment may include one or more of the following:
Mood-stabilizing medicines or antidepressants
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Chemical Imbalance In The Brain
Bipolar disorder is widely believed to be the result of chemical imbalances in the brain.
The chemicals responsible for controlling the brain’s functions are called neurotransmitters, and include noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.
There’s some evidence that if there’s an imbalance in the levels of 1 or more neurotransmitters, a person may develop some symptoms of bipolar disorder.
For example, there’s evidence that episodes of mania may occur when levels of noradrenaline are too high, and episodes of depression may be the result of noradrenaline levels becoming too low.
An Ounce Of Prevention
If your children have a stronger chance of developing a bipolar spectrum disorder or another psychiatric condition because of your own diagnosis or family history, experts recommend that you:
NORMALIZE: Discuss mental health openly within the family, as you would cancer or high blood pressure.
MONITOR: Follow children and adolescents closely for signs of mood symptoms, changes in sleep patterns or school performance, extra-sensitive responses to physical or emotional stressors, or anxieties that are difficult to soothe.
CONSULT: Dont hesitate to engage your family practitioner and mental health specialists if you see anything of concern in your childs behavior.
EQUIP: Even before any symptoms appear, teach kids stress management techniques such as yoga and mindfulness. Share other tools for handling emotional distress, such as journaling and healthy communication. Engage in family-focused therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy for families to expand the range of coping skills and improve communication.
* * * * *
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Its Similar To Other Mental Health Conditions
People with bipolar disorder usually get diagnosed with something else firstdepression and ADHD are some of the most common. Depression is a part of bipolar disorder, and most people are more familiar with what depression looks like than mania. ADHD can also look very similar to bipolar disorder, especially in children.
Once a person discovers they have bipolar disorder, that might replace any previous diagnosisor they might have multiple mental health conditions at once. If you know someone who is being treated for a mental illness, but they still struggle with symptoms of bipolar disorder, its worth considering that there may be more going on.
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What Are My Chances Of Passing Mental Illness On To My Children And Could It Potentially Get Worse
For mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, genes are an important risk factor. But your genes are certainly not your destiny.
Here are some numbers to illustrate: On average, the risk of developing bipolar disorder is a little less than 1% . For people who have a parent with bipolar disorder, the risk is about 8% . You could see that glass as half empty, but you could also see it as half full. Even if your child would be 10 times as likely to develop bipolar disorder as the average person, there is still a greater than 90% chance that she or he would not develop bipolar disorder. These numbers come from studies that use a strict definition of bipolar disorder. If we use a broader definition, the percentages are higher, but the message is the same. Having a parent with bipolar disorder means risk is increased, but the absolute risk is still low.
If you havent already read Andrew Solomons book, Far From the Tree, I recommend it highly. Its filled with remarkable stories about families with children facing all sorts of developmental and health challenges. A DBSA Honorary Advisory Board member, Andrew Solomon is a person who both lives with a mood disorder and has had a child with health issuesso he knows that territory well.
About the Doc
About the Doc
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Helpful Resources For Bipolar
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services has a free, confidential 24/7 National Helpline for 365-day-a-year information and referrals with services in English and Spanish for families facing mental health and substance use disorders. 1-800-662-HELP .
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline at 1-800-273-TALK . The toll-free TTY number is 1-800-799-4TTY . You also can text the Crisis Text Line or go to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers online support groups, in-person support groups, and youth support groups.
International Bipolar Association Crisis Line in the US, or view their list of international hotlines.
Center for Clinical Interventions has workbooks, work sheets, and information sheets available to learn more about bipolar disorders, list and track symptoms, and learn about managing your illness.
Stats from NAMI:
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
- 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Other Causes And Risk Factors
Along with genetics, there are some environmental factors that appear to play a part in triggering bipolar disorder in susceptible people. These include:
- Periods of high stress: Examples of stressful events that could trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder include a death in the family or being a survivor of rape, abuse, or another traumatic experience.
- A traumatic head injury: Concussion or other types of brain injury may cause symptom onset.
- Alcohol or drug misuse: Substance misuse is common among those with bipolar disorder, and the conditions may trigger each other in some cases. Drinking alcohol and using drugs can worsen symptoms of both mania and depression.
- Childbirth: Some
There are four subtypes of bipolar disorder, each with similar symptoms.
However, the occurrence, duration, and intensity of the symptoms can determine which subtype a person has.
Types of bipolar disorder include:
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How Is Bipolar Disorder Passed Genetically
Just like obesity, alcoholism, diabetes, and many other physical and mental health conditions, its likely that some people might be more genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder than others.
Genetic predispositions or susceptibility are based on genetic makeup that increases the likelihood of developing a particular disease. Some research has indeed linked an identifiable familial component to the psychiatric disorder.
Similar to the discovery that BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, as we try to determine is bipolar disorder genetic, we must explore potential connections between certain candidate genes or genetic makeup and the condition itself.
Still, we dont truly understand the exact genetic variation of bipolar disorder that might be inherited. Thus, our complete understanding of bipolar hereditary is still developing.
For those wondering is bipolar hereditary, the following statistics can shed some light when trying to determine the likelihood of someone having bipolar disorder:
- One parent has bipolar disorder = child has a 10% 25% chance of developing it
- Both parents have bipolar disorder = child has a 10% 50% chance of developing it
- Non-identical twin has bipolar disorder = sibling has a 10% 25% chance of developing it
- Identical twin has bipolar disorder = 40% 70% chance of developing it
Does Bipolar Disorder Run In Families
Bipolar disorder to known for its characteristic extreme highs and devastating lows. For many people who have been diagnosed with this disorder, it can often feel like they are at constant odds with themselves in a battle between good and evil. If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a lot of questions can arise. The who, what, where, when and why questions can flood your already racing mind. You most likely want to know what caused you or your loved ones bipolar disorder and if anything could have been done to prevent it. You may also be wondering, does bipolar disorder run in families? Lets find out.
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What Causes Bipolar Disorder
Though the exact cause of bipolar disorder has yet to be found, scientists confirm that bipolar disorder has a genetic component, meaning the disorder can run in families. Some research suggests that multiple factors may interact to produce abnormal function of brain circuits that results in bipolar disorder’s symptoms of major depression and mania. Examples of environmental factors may include stress, alcohol or substance abuse, and lack of sleep.
When A Parent Has Bipolar Disorder
…What kids want to know
- Guides & Publications
- When a parent has bipolar disorder … What kids want to know
Children have a lot of questions when someone in their family is sick. When children dont have answers to their questions, they tend to come up with their own, which can be incorrect and scary!
When the family members illness is bipolar disorder, it often becomes a secret that nobody talks about. All children need some explanation and support, geared to their age, to help them understand bipolar disorder.Each parent and childs beginning conversation about bipolar disorder will be different depending on the childs age and ability to manage the information. You know your children best.This brochure will help prepare you to take the first step. If you have already started talking to a child about bipolar disorder, this brochure will give you more information to keep the conversation going. It lists common questions children have about their parents bipolar disorder, as well as suggestions for how to answer their questions.
Questions kids have
What is bipolar disorder? How does bipolar disorder work?
Why does my dad act the way he does? How does it feel to have bipolar disorder? What goes on in my moms head when shes not herself?
What does a low mood, or depression, mean? What does it look like?
What does a high mood, or mania, mean? What does it look like?
How will bipolar disorder affect me? How will it affect my family?
How can my mom or dad get better?
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