Kids' Risks Increase When Parents Are Bipolar

WEDNESDAY March 4, 2009 -- Children whose parents have bipolar disorder face an increased risk for mood disorders and anxiety disorders as well as early-onset bipolar disorder, researchers have found.

Their study involved 388 children, ages 6 to 18, of 233 parents with bipolar disorder and a control group of 251 children of 143 parents without the condition. The researchers found that about 11 percent of the children of parents with bipolar disorder had a bipolar spectrum disorder, compared with less than 1 percent of the children in the control group. Children of parents with bipolar disorder also were more likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder.

If both parents had bipolar disorder, the risks were greater. Among children who had two parents with the disorder, about 29 percent had bipolar disorder themselves, compared with 10 percent of the children who had one parent with bipolar disorder. The risk for other psychiatric disorders was the same.

"Consistent with the literature, most parents with bipolar disorder recollected that their illness started before age 20 years, and about 20 percent had illness that started before age 13 years," wrote Dr. Boris Birmaher, of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and his colleagues.

"In contrast, most of their children developed their first bipolar disorder episode before age 12 years, suggesting the possibility that parents were more perceptive of their children's symptoms earlier in life or perhaps that bipolar disorder has more penetrance and manifests earlier in new generations."

The researchers said their findings could help doctors and patients.

"Clinicians who treat adults with bipolar disorder should question those who are parents about their children's psychopathology to offer prompt identification and early interventions for any psychiatric problems that may be affecting the children's functioning, particularly early-onset bipolar disorder," they wrote.

The study was published in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about bipolar disorder.

Posted: March 2009


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