Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem that’s characterized by periods of depression, mania, and normal states. The disorder affects around 2.8 percent of adults in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. It seems to affect men and women at similar rates, but it’s more common among people under 45 years old with the highest prevalence among 18 to 29-year-olds. Bipolar disorder is considered a mood disorder, which means that it’s a psychological problem that’s characterized by extreme moods that are difficult to regulate.
In many cases, mood disorders involve severe emotional symptoms that are more intense or prolonged than a normal emotional range. Major depression also falls under the category of mood disorders, and depressive symptoms are closely related to bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme shifts from a period of mania to severe depression.
Manic periods can include impulsive behavior, insomnia, euphoria, extreme self-confidence, racing thoughts, anxiety, hyper-productivity, and rash decision making. Some people only rarely experience manic stages, but they can be severe. Extreme mania can manifest in delusional thinking. For instance, you might think there is some imaginary enemy coming that only you know about. You may also empty your bank account on lavish purchases or plan expensive trips.
Depressive phases of bipolar disorder can involve fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, the inability to feel pleasure, despair, and increased thoughts of death. Depressive phases are often more common and longer-lasting than manic phases, but they can be just as debilitating and dangerous.
But where does bipolar disorder come from, and can you get it through your genes? Learn more about bipolar disorder and what it means if someone in your family has it.
Your genes determine a lot about how your brain and body work. Everything from your small idiosyncrasies to the disease you develop as you age can be influenced by your genes. For a long time, it was assumed that mental health issues were largely caused by environmental influences. However, researchers have come to learn that your genes can influence your mental health just as much as they influence your physical health. Mental health issues can be determined by genetic, environmental, and developmental causes.
However, it can be difficult to pinpoint any one definitive cause, even in an individual person. More likely, psychological disorders are caused by some combination of all three of these factors. Still, genetics may be the most influential of the three. For instance, in alcohol use disorders, studies show that your genes make up as much as half of your risk factors for developing the disorder.
When determining the likelihood that a person’s genes have an influence on a specific physical or psychological problem, researchers study twins and adopted children. These two groups can help minimize other variables like environmental and developmental factors. Identical twins have very similar genes, while paternal twins can be as genetically distinct as any siblings. If one identical twin has the disorder, the other should also develop it if there is a strong genetic link. Adoption studies can also help to rule out developmental factors. If a birth parent of a child that has the disorder and the child gets it, even though they were raised in a different home, it points to a genetic influence.
Studies can also indicate whether a disease or disorder relies on a single gene or multiple genes. No single gene has been discovered in bipolar disorder studies, and it’s likely that bipolar disorder is caused by polygenic contributions, which means that it’s caused by many small changes in a person’s genes. However, studies do suggest a “major genetic contribution” to your risk of developing bipolar disorder.
If someone in your family has bipolar disorder, it could mean that you have a greater risk of experiencing the disorder yourself. You’re most likely to have a genetic link if an immediate family member has the disorder like your parents, siblings, or children. However, just because a family member has the disorder doesn’t mean you have it or that you’ll ever get it. Still, if you do have someone in your family with the disorder, it does mean you have a significant genetic risk factor. So, what can you do if you’re at risk?
Unfortunately, there is no known way that we know can definitively prevent bipolar disorder. It may come on randomly, or it can be triggered by stress or trauma in your life. That being said, following good mental health practices like getting enough sleep, managing stress, and getting plenty of exercise can help to maintain general mental wellness. Ultimately, if you know that a family member has bipolar disorder, it can help you be more vigilant of the disease in yourself. If you start to notice the symptoms, you can seek treatment as early as possible to help avoid severe consequences. Catching a mental health issue early can also mean treating it when it’s more manageable.
If bipolar disorder is left unchecked, it can have serious consequences. It can affect most parts of your life, including your health, relationships, finances, and your ability to perform in school or at work. It can affect your physical health in multiple ways. It can hinder your ability to get enough sleep. Plus, depression is linked to serious medical problems like heart disease. Bipolar disorder also increases your risk of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health problems that might be related to bipolar disorder, there is help available. Though mental health issues can be complicated, they are typically treatable with the right care. Bipolar disorder can be treated with medications and psychotherapeutic options. Learn more about bipolar disorder and how it can be treated to take your first steps toward better mental health today.
Cleveland Clinic. (2018, January 27). Bipolar Disorder Prevention. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9294-bipolar-disorder/prevention
Craddock, N., & Sklar, P. (2013, May 10). Genetics of bipolar disorder. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673613608557
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2016, April 14). Depression and Heart Disease. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/clinical_services/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/depression_heart_disease.html
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/bipolar-disorder.shtml
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018, September 21). Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders