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Family History of Bipolar Disorder May Make the Illness More Severe

Posted on September 25th, 2014
Posted in Mental Health

Parents can pass along physical characteristics and even mannerisms to their offspring. Unfortunately, they can also pass along genes for illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Researchers recently investigated how family history impacts bipolar disorder.

Through the STEP-BP (Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder) study researchers found that a family history of mania and depression put a person at greater risk of developing those symptoms. The study patients whose families had a history of mental illness had much more severe symptoms and reported lower enjoyment and life satisfaction than patients who were from families without certain previous mental illnesses.

More Severe Earlier On

According to the survey, individuals who have had a family member with bipolar disorder symptoms tend to develop their own symptoms at a younger age than someone without a family history of bipolar disorder.

Of 2600 patients in the survey, 1963 said that one of their first-degree family members had mania or depression, with their own symptoms first appearing at age 21. For individuals without a family history mania symptoms began at age 23. Depression symptoms surfaced at age 17 for individuals with a family history compared to age 20 in those without. Those with a family history had many more episodes of mania and depression, with the strain of the illness causing 40 percent to attempt suicide. Of those individuals in the study without a family history, 33 percent had attempted suicide. Overall, researchers found that individuals with a family history also had more anxiety disorders.

Symptoms Increase More Rapidly

A year after the initial survey the researchers once again checked the study participants for mania and depression symptoms. Those with a family history of bipolar had a significant increase in symptoms.

Individuals with a family history had more suicidal thoughts and their depression was causing a significant reduction in their energy and concentration, an increase in manic symptoms and racing thoughts and they were distracted more easily than they had been the previous year.

The Search for Quality of Life

The study revealed that the bipolar participants with a family history of bipolar recorded a poorer quality of life than those who had bipolar without a family history. On the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Short Form those with a family history scored a 40.8 at the beginning of the study and a 42.4 at the follow-up. The other participants scored at 43.2 at the beginning and 44.6 at follow-up.

If families have a history of bipolar disorder then they should carefully watch their children for any early symptoms of the mental illness. Families who adopt children would benefit in knowing the mental health history of their child’s family. The more prepared and watchful a family is for the symptoms of the illness, the more likely they can manage the illness and give that child the best quality of life possible.

Study researchers believe that cognitive monitoring of family members of individuals who have bipolar could help start treatment early. Just as a woman with breast cancer would watch for the safety of her daughters, families with mood disorders would benefit their children by watching them for signs of possible mental illness.

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