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Causes of Bipolar Disorder

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Is Bipolar Disorder Genetic? continued...

Studies at Stanford University that explored the genetic connection of bipolar disorder found that children with one biological parent with bipolar I or bipolar II disorder have an increased likelihood of getting bipolar disorder. In this study, researchers reported that 51% of the bipolar offspring had a psychiatric disorder, most commonly major depression, dysthymia (low-grade, chronic depression), bipolar disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Interestingly, the bipolar parents in the study who had a childhood history of ADHD were more likely to have children with bipolar disorder rather than ADHD.

In other findings, researchers report that first-degree relatives of a person diagnosed with bipolar I or II disorder are at an increased risk for major depression when compared to first-degree relatives of those with no history of bipolar disorder. Scientific findings also show that the lifetime risk of affective disorders in relatives with family members who have bipolar disorder increases, depending on the number of diagnosed relatives.

What Role Does Environment and Lifestyle Play in Bipolar Disorder?

Along with a genetic link to bipolar disorder, research shows that children of bipolar parents are often surrounded by significant environmental stressors. That may include living with a parent who has a tendency toward mood swings, alcohol or substance abuse, financial and sexual indiscretions, and hospitalizations. Although most children of a bipolar parent will not develop bipolar disorder, some children of bipolar parents may develop a different psychiatric disorder such as ADHD, major depression, schizophrenia, or substance abuse.

Environmental stressors also play a role in triggering bipolar episodes in those who are genetically predisposed. For example, children growing up in bipolar families may live with a parent who lacks control of moods or emotions. Some children may live with constant verbal or even physical abuse if the bipolar parent is not medicated or is using alcohol or drugs.

Can Lack of Sleep Worsen the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Some findings show that people with bipolar disorder have a genetic predisposition to sleep-wake cycle problems that may trigger symptoms of depression and mania.

The problem for those with bipolar disorder, however, is that sleep loss may lead to a mood episode such as mania (elation) in some patients. Worrying about losing sleep can increase anxiety, thus worsening the bipolar mood disorder altogether. Once a sleep-deprived person with bipolar disorder goes into the manic state, the need for sleep decreases even more.

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