Some May Outgrow Bipolar Disorder
> 10/11/2009 1:30:21 PM


Encouraging research implies that bipolar disorder, a common and chronically disruptive mental illness, may not be a lifelong condition after all.

Bipolar subjects display a considerable range of symptoms, sharing a tendency toward dramatic changes in mood and behavior. Many popular depictions label their disorder an inescapable psychological prison that plays a formative role in their lives, the majority of which must be organized around its disruptive side effects. 
Working from two nationwide surveys that measured rates of cross-demographic diagnosis, University of Missouri researchers observed a distinct age-based bell curve in their data. The percentage of confirmed bipolar subjects in the survey population hit its peak between the ages of 18 and 25 and dropped considerably among those 30 and older. The statistical differences observed in this study are too large to be outliers: up to 6.5% of the survey group members aged 18 to 24 received bipolar diagnoses, while the disorder was present in only 3% of those over 29. The natural conclusion would seem to be that a considerable number of subjects gradually "outgrew" their conditions as their brains and bodies adapted.
Because this was a statistical study, researchers can only offer theories on the reason for the surprising decline. Neurological development, particularly that of the prefrontal cortex, may well be responsible; the prefrontal cortex regulates self-control and social cognition, and 25 is the age at which this section of the brain becomes fully mature. Researchers promoting this theory note that the same chronological decline has been observed among adolescents with alcohol and drug problems whose issues begin to subside around the same age.

Bipolar disorder has long served as evidence of a permanently disordered brain. But studies like this imply that many bipolar subjects can minimize their conditions over time, and this possibility should challenge some of our fundamental ideasabout the nature of the disorder and its effective treatment.

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