Does Bipolar Disorder Run In Families?

There has been a lot of debate in recent years on whether bipolar disorder has a genetic link and runs in families. Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition, and people with this condition tend to fluctuate between periods of elevated moods known as mania and negative moods known as depression. These mood swings are known to take place all of a sudden and can cause severe disruption in the lives of people having bipolar disorder. It makes it difficult for them to function properly at their workplace or school, they have difficulty maintaining their relationships, and even have trouble keeping a job. The causes of bipolar disorder are not understood properly, but it is believed that there is a potential connection between bipolar disorder having a family history. But does bipolar disorder run in families? Let’s take a look.

Does Bipolar Disorder Run In Families?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is marked by extreme mood shifts.(1) People with this condition experience alternating periods of mania and depression, sometimes experiencing the symptoms together. These mood changes can occur suddenly.(2,3) According to data by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 2.8 percent of adolescents and adults in the United States have bipolar disorder.(4,5)

The causes of bipolar disorder are not properly understood, but studies have found that there could be a possible connection between bipolar disorder and family history. This has led researchers to believe that there could be a genetic component to the disorder. Having a family history of bipolar disorder is now thought to be a major risk factor for developing the condition. This potential connection is likely caused due to some specific genes.(6)

According to a 2009 study, adults who have relatives with bipolar disorder have a ten times higher risk of also developing the illness.(7) This risk continues to increase the more closely in relation to the family member is. This means that if any of your parents have bipolar disorder, then you have a higher likelihood of developing the condition as compared to the risk if your great uncle has the disease.

Studies have found that genetics account for around 60 to 80% of the cause behind bipolar disorder.(8) This means that hereditary is not the only cause of bipolar disease. If you have a family history of the disease, it does not mean that you will automatically also develop the condition. In fact, most family members of relatives with bipolar disorder will not develop the illness.(9)

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies have found that irregularities in some genes come together to increase a person’s risk of developing bipolar disorder.(10) The exact manner in which this happens remains unclear.

However, just having a genetic predisposition to bipolar disease is not sufficient to trigger the development of the illness. There need to be certain environmental factors as well that are necessary to trigger the symptoms in people who have the relevant gene variations.

Additionally, research has shown that a majority of people with a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder are healthy, and even those with a relative with bipolar disorder are not known to have the condition themselves.(11)

Other Possible Causes for Bipolar Disorder

Apart from the genetic link, there are many other risk factors for the disease. Some of these risk factors and triggers include:

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are also believed to be a potential cause of bipolar disorder. Sometimes, a stressful event can act as a trigger for the beginning of bipolar disorder. This event could either be a high-stress event that occurs in your personal or professional life. A significant and sudden life change, such as a traumatic physical injury or the death of a loved one, can also trigger the onset of bipolar disorder. People who have already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder often find it beneficial to control the levels of stress in their lives.(12)

Seasonal factors are also believed to act as a trigger for bipolar disorder episodes. The change in seasons from winter to spring is a particularly strong trigger for bipolar disease. This because of the rapid increase in the number of hours of sunshine present during the day impacts the pineal gland. This is believed to influence the development of mania and depression.(13,14)

Some other environmental triggers for bipolar disorder may include heavy alcohol or drug use, as well as a lack of sleep.(15,16) In some cases, bipolar disorder in women can also be triggered after giving birth. This usually happens in women who are already biologically inclined to develop bipolar disease, to begin with. Pregnancy, though, has not been found as being a potential underlying trigger for bipolar disorder.(17)

Brain Structure and Bipolar

There are known to be subtle differences in brain activity and size in people with bipolar disorder. Traumatic head injuries and concussions are also known to increase the risk of a person developing bipolar disease.(18)

Conclusion

Even after years of research, bipolar disorder is not well understood. However, it is now known that there is definitely a hereditary connection to developing the disease. If someone in your family has bipolar disorder, then you have a higher risk of developing the condition as compared to those who do not have a family history of the disease.

However, this does not mean that you will definitely go on to develop the disease. If you think that you or a family member may have bipolar disorder, you should consult a doctor. They will be able to help you understand your own risk factors and also help you determine if there is a need for further testing and evaluation.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but with proper treatment and medications, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be kept under control and managed. There are today many different treatments that exist to help people manage their symptoms and help them live a relatively good quality of life.

References:

  1. Miklowitz, D.J. and Johnson, S.L., 2008. Bipolar disorder. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  2. Hirschfeld, R., Calabrese, J.R., Weissman, M.M., Reed, M., Davies, M.A., Frye, M.A., Keck Jr, P.E., Lewis, L., McElroy, S.L., McNulty, J.P. and Wagner, K.D., 2003. Screening for bipolar disorder in the community. The Journal of clinical psychiatry.
  3. Müller-Oerlinghausen, B., Berghöfer, A. and Bauer, M., 2002. Bipolar disorder. The Lancet, 359(9302), pp.241-247.
  4. Nami.org. 2020. Bipolar Disorder | NAMI: National Alliance On Mental Illness. [online] Available at: <https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder> [Accessed 26 July 2020].
  5. Nami.org. 2020. Mental Health By The Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance On Mental Illness. [online] Available at: <https://www.nami.org/mhstats> [Accessed 25 July 2020]. Smeland, O.B., Bahrami, S., Frei, O., Shadrin, A., O’Connell, K., Savage, J., Watanabe, K., Krull, F., Bettella, F., Steen, N.E. and Ueland, T., 2020. Genome-wide analysis reveals extensive genetic overlap between schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and intelligence. Molecular psychiatry, 25(4), pp.844-853.
  6. Barnett, J.H. and Smoller, J.W., 2009. The genetics of bipolar disorder. Neuroscience, 164(1), pp.331-343.
  7. Kerner, B., 2014. Genetics of bipolar disorder. The application of clinical genetics, 7, p.33.
  8. Blackwood, D.H., Pickard, B.J., Thomson, P.A., Evans, K.L., Porteous, D.J. and Muir, W.J., 2007. Are some genetic risk factors common to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression? evidence fromDISC1, GRIK4 andNRG1. Neurotoxicity Research, 11(1), pp.73-83.
  9. Reference, G., 2020. Bipolar Disorder. [online] Genetics Home Reference. Available at: <https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/bipolar-disorder#inheritance> [Accessed 29 July 2020].
  10. Kerner, B., 2014. Genetics of bipolar disorder. The application of clinical genetics, 7, p.33.
  11. Rowland, T.A. and Marwaha, S., 2018. Epidemiology and risk factors for bipolar disorder. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 8(9), pp.251-269.
  12. Wetterberg, L., 1983. The relationship between the pineal gland and the pituitary-adrenal axis in health, endocrine and psychiatric conditions. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 8(1), pp.75-80.
  13. Cavallo, A., 1993. The pineal gland in human beings: relevance to pediatrics. The Journal of pediatrics, 123(6), pp.843-851.
  14. Sonne, S.C. and Brady, K.T., 2002. Bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Alcohol Research & Health, 26(2), p.103.
  15. Weiss, R.D., Kolodziej, M., Griffin, M.L., Najavits, L.M., Jacobson, L.M. and Greenfield, S.F., 2004. Substance use and perceived symptom improvement among patients with bipolar disorder and substance dependence. Journal of affective disorders, 79(1-3), pp.279-283.
  16. Chaudron, L.H. and Pies, R.W., 2003. The relationship between postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder: a review. The Journal of clinical psychiatry.
  17. Strakowski, S.M., DelBello, M.P., Sax, K.W., Zimmerman, M.E., Shear, P.K., Hawkins, J.M. and Larson, E.R., 1999. Brain magnetic resonance imaging of structural abnormalities in bipolar disorder. Archives of general psychiatry, 56(3), pp.254-260.

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