Kids of Bipolar Parents Face Greater Risks
> 3/6/2009 6:05:32 PM

Authors of the large-scale Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study have determined that the children of individuals with bipolar disorder are considerably more likely to develop both the condition itself and a list of related mental health issues. The condition is relatively uncommon, affecting only 1% of children and teens, but this study heightens the belief that its genetic influence is unusually strong and that the presence of bipolar disorder in one’s immediate family is by far the best predictor of its occurrence.

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers interviewed and examined 388 children with bipolar parents and 251 without (age range 6-18) in order to determine the nature and prevalence of mood disorders and the factors that influence them. In order to create a blind study, the researchers interviewing the children were left unaware of the parents’ diagnoses. The results are simply striking: according to the study’s data, the children of bipolar parents are 5 times more likely to experience some form of mood, anxiety or behavioral disorder and 13 times more likely to develop the same condition. Bipolar statistics rise even higher when both parents have the disorder (as ten of the study’s couples did): they’re 3.6 times higher than those listed above.  Perhaps the only encouraging statistical trend in this bunch holds that children with two affected parents are no more likely to suffer non-bipolar disorders than those with one.

The majority of bipolar subjects experience symptoms before the age of 21. 1 in 5 report symptoms appearing as early as 13, and the at-risk children in this study are far more likely to experience that early-onset variety. According to one researcher, this condition “deprives children of the opportunity to experience normal emotional, cognitive and social development.” While the statement may seem a bit extreme, all involved parties suggest that the children of bipolar parents should be closely monitored to ensure early intervention where needed – as with most neurological conditions, bipolar disorder is most effectively treated in its formative stages. It is, unfortunately, a chronic condition that can be minimized in some cases with treatment and medication but cannot be “cured”.

Affected parents should obviously look for similar symptoms in their own children, and the study provides encouraging data that suggests they’re doing just that. Symptoms in most affected children appeared at the age of 12, which is even earlier than among their parents’ generation and suggests a heightened sensitivity to the disorder. We hope this is the case; we cannot overemphasize the importance of early detection and treatment. Doctors treating bipolar parents should make it their business to ask about offspring and affected adults should study their own symptoms in order to more reliably identify them in their kids.

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