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Is Bipolar Disorder Genetic?


Bipolar disorder is a relatively common mental health condition. Those living with bipolar disorder will experience alternating periods of depression and mania, or negative and positive moods, in a cycle. These continual ups and downs can be short-lived or last for quite a while, but the change from one to another will always be sudden. 

In many cases, the mania portion will last at least a week at a time and will come with intense focus, becoming highly talkative, and even having thoughts of grandiosity. Bipolar depression will frequently last at least 2 weeks and will result in incredibly low energy levels, sadness, and withdrawal from friends and family.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

While the exact cause of bipolar disorder isn’t yet known, research indicates that roughly 2.6% of Americans will experience the condition known as bipolar disorder, making it far more common than many realize. There are some criteria that can point to those being at a greater risk of developing bipolar disorder, and those individuals should consider consulting a professional periodically to get officially screened for the condition.

Genetics, Heredity, and Bipolar Disorder

Despite not having identified the exact cause of bipolar disorder, there are significant genetic links. It has been determined that one of the greatest risk factors contributing to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is having a family history of bipolar diagnoses. This is shown by adults with diagnosed relatives having nearly a full order of magnitude greater chance of being diagnosed themselves. 

The risk elevates even further if the relative is close, such as the immediate family. Having a parent or sibling that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder can mean a much greater chance of diagnosis for other members of the family. This means that a family history of bipolar disorder plays an incredibly large role in the potential development of bipolar disorder, and this factor alone can account for up to 80% of the cause. 

However, it isn’t 100%, which means just because you’ve had one or two members of your family be diagnosed with the disorder, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop the condition. In fact, most members of families with one or more bipolar diagnoses will not develop it, so there are certainly other risks at play.

Other Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Even though there are strong familial influences on developing bipolar disorder, there are other factors that can contribute in meaningful ways to the development or diagnosis of the condition.

Environmental Stressors

A contributing factor common in those with bipolar disorder is that they experienced similar stressful environmental factors. One of the common stressors was a major life event or disruptive change, such as the death of a close family member or loved one, a severe physical injury or disablement, and others. These events are incredibly stressful, and those with bipolar disorder frequently find that managing stress helps them manage symptoms of the disorder.

Seasonality may also be a triggering factor for many, either the change from fall to winter or from winter to spring. The change from winter to spring brings with it a significant change in the daylight hours and their effects on the pineal gland, which can instigate manic peaks. The end of the year can have a similar effect, with the drop in daylight hours sending many people into depressive valleys.

Physical Brain Structure & Chemistry

Although only studied lightly, the brain structure of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder does seem to have slight differences from others. Among the differences noted is a variance in both brain size, and the chemical activity in the brain.

There has also been some evidence that changes to brain structure from various traumatic brain injuries may also play a role in the condition’s development. This means that those with traumatic brain injuries from concussions, car accidents, and other causes, may have an elevated risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Other minor factors may contribute to triggering bipolar episodes, including sleep deprivation and substance use disorder. Both of these are frequently associated with significant changes in brain chemistry, which can be a contributing factor for those already prone to the condition. This risk can become even more significant if the substance use disorder is severe or has been a long-term condition, which has been known to cause high difficulty in regaining proper neurochemical balance even years after recovery.

When to Seek Treatment

If you begin to experience some of the potential indicators of bipolar disorder, or if you are considered to be in a high-risk group, you may want to begin getting screened for it at regular intervals. The symptoms can be easy to disregard as just feeling “off” sometimes, but when taken in the context of other symptoms or risk factors that may be present, they may constitute a significant potential. There are symptoms to look out for that are present in the depressive phases and the mania phases.

Symptoms of bipolar depression include:

  • Intense, chronic fatigue
  • Slowed speech
  • Deep, prolonged sense of sadness
  • Being unable to focus
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Poor decision making
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Invasive thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation
  • Isolating away from usual friends and family

Symptoms of bipolar mania include:

  • Poor judgment or decision making
  • Intense happiness or euphoria
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Risky or unsafe behavior like gambling, drug use, or unprotected sex
  • Rapid thoughts
  • Intense focus
  • Unrealistic perception of one’s abilities
  • Rapid, manic speech
  • Jumpiness 

If you have experienced any more than a few of these symptoms in a cyclical pattern, it may be prudent to seek a professional opinion or diagnosis.

Agape Treatment Center Can Help

If you or someone you know has been experiencing some of the indicators of bipolar disorder, even if sometimes the episodes seem to “mix” together, you may have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Reach out today to the treatment professionals at Agape, and discuss your treatment needs in complete confidentiality. By creating a personalized treatment plan you can take a big step toward mitigating the symptoms of bipolar disorder in the future.

Call the Agape Treatment Center admissions team at 888-614-0077 to learn more about what our addiction and mental health facilities can do for you or your loved one.

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