Understanding Bipolar Disorder
One of the biggest questions about bipolar disorder is whether it is a genetically inherited condition. While researchers believe there are several contributing factors to developing this serious mental health condition, and not everybody with this mental illness has a family history, genetics likely play a large part. This article will delve deeper into the question, “Is bipolar disorder genetic?”
Bipolar disorder, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is a mental illness that can be chronic (persistent) or episodic (occurring irregularly throughout your life). It features extreme mood changes, with unusually elevated manic periods that feel euphoric, irritable, or otherwise “up,” with more energy and a higher activity level than average. This is followed by “down” depressive periods, with symptoms of clinical depression, like sadness and hopelessness, low energy levels, and low mood.
There are different types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I disorder: Manic episodes can last at least one week, and depressive episodes can last for two weeks or longer. Some episodes have symptoms of both at the same time.
- Bipolar II disorder: You have the depressive phases, but the “highs” are not as elevated as in Bipolar I
- Cyclothymic disorder: Milder highs and lows
Common misconceptions about this disorder include:
- It has no treatment
- There is only one type of bipolar disorder
- The highs and lows happen in a regular cycle
- Kids don’t have bipolar disorder
- There is a diagnostic test for bipolar disorder
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
Some of the known bipolar disorder causes include:
- Hormonal imbalances: Because hormones affect mood, a severe hormone imbalance can trigger a bipolar episode
- Environmental factors: Highly stressful life events, substance abuse, and trauma can be triggers that cause bipolar disorder to present itself in those already prone to the disease.
- Brain structure: People who have developed bipolar disorder often have a different brain structure than those who do not.
- Genetic influences: It can be hereditary, as people who have specific genes are more likely (but not guaranteed) to develop bipolar disorder. It is complex, as many genes are involved, and people without a family history of this disorder may still develop it.
The Role of Genetics in Bipolar Disorder
When discussing genetic factors in bipolar disorder, it is essential to remember that there is no single cause. There is not a “bipolar gene”. It results from complex chemical interactions within the brain, affecting brain functioning and mood regulation.
While having a close (first-degree) relationship like a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder will make it much more likely that you will also have it, it is not guaranteed. It is even possible that identical twins receive different diagnoses, with one developing bipolar disorder while the other does not.
Bipolar Disorder Inheritance Pattern
The exact inheritance pattern of bipolar disorder is still unknown. While there is a greater risk for first-degree relatives to pass the disorder on, the impact of bipolar disorder on family transcends genetics. It is also possible for the disorder to “skip a generation,” and this risk seems to be higher in certain families than in others. The psychological and emotional repercussions of the disorder can profoundly affect family dynamics, support structures, and interpersonal relationships.
Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?
According to some studies, a child may be more likely to inherit it from their mother than their father because the mitochondrial DNA in the mother’s ovum may play a part, but other studies contradict these findings. So, is bipolar disorder hereditary? We still don’t know for sure.
Hormonal Influence on Bipolar Disorder
There have been many inquiries into which hormone causes bipolar disorder, but although there is evidence of a connection, the connection is still not completely understood. Giving birth and taking hormonal treatments are risk factors for developing bipolar disorder. Women with this disorder who have recently given birth are seven times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for mental health reasons. Even hormone changes during menstruation can worsen bipolar symptoms.
Future Research Directions in Genetic Factors of Bipolar Disorder
As research in this area has been conducted mainly on those with a European heritage, more information is needed on those with other racial and ethnic backgrounds, and a larger overall sample size is required to begin more profound research on this disorder.
Understanding the genetic components of bipolar disorder is essential for developing new treatments because the more we know where the illness comes from, the better scientists can create preventative treatments or treat existing issues.
The Importance of Continued Research
Continued research into the genetic factors of bipolar disorder could help people get diagnosed quicker so they can begin mental health treatment and find relief from their symptoms. As researchers learn about this elusive mental health issue, new medications and treatments can also be developed.
Hope for the Future
Studies continue, and treatment and support are ever-evolving, giving those diagnosed with bipolar disorder relief from their symptoms and hope for the future.
FAQs About Whether Bipolar Disorder Is Genetic
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health issue with extreme mood fluctuations, ranging from manic episodes (high-energy, racing thoughts, irritability, grandiose ideas, and feeling abnormally upbeat) and depression (feeling sad, hopeless, and depressed, with loss of interest, weight changes, sleep issues, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating). Bipolar I features extreme highs and lows, while Bipolar II has longer depressive periods and less extreme highs.
Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?
It might be. There is evidence that supports the heritability of bipolar disorder, but just because a person has a close relative with this disorder does not guarantee that they will also develop it. The connection between genetic factors and bipolar disorder is still not completely understood.
How is Bipolar Disorder Inherited?
The answer to this question is complex, and researchers are still unsure. There is not a “bipolar gene,” but rather a combination of several genes working together, along with environmental factors and hormonal imbalances that cause the disorder to develop. Even identical twins with similar lives will not necessarily develop the disease, even if their parents both have it.
Do hormones affect Bipolar Disorder?
Yes, there is strong evidence that hormonal imbalances can make the symptoms of bipolar disorder much more intense when a person already has the disease. Estrogen is a crucial player, causing severe mood swings and intense emotions, especially during specific points in the menstrual cycle and after giving birth.
What causes Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is not caused by one single thing. It combines genetic factors, environmental exposure to stress, trauma, substance use, and physiological factors like a person’s unique brain structure and hormonal balance.
Can Bipolar Disorder be prevented if it’s in my genes?
Not everybody who has family members with bipolar disorder will develop it themselves. There is also no sure way to prevent the disease, but getting treatment early can help you stay healthy and prevent the infection from worsening. Some steps you can take include self-monitoring, living a healthy lifestyle, paying attention to warning signs, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Are there any genetic tests for Bipolar Disorder?
There is an at-home test for bipolar disorder, but this is not an entirely credible, scientifically-backed test and may not give an accurate prediction, as the role of genes is still not completely understood.
Talking to a mental health professional or family physician is the first step to receiving a proper diagnosis for bipolar disorder so you can begin treatment. In the future, who knows? Maybe there will be a quick at-home screening you can do that is 100% accurate, but for now, the case remains complex.