Kids of Bipolar Parents at Risk for Psychiatric Disorders

When parents have bipolar disorder, their children are at increased risk for psychiatric disorders themselves, according to a new report.

The findings "indicate a need for early identification and treatment," Dr. Boris Birmaher, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and colleagues state in their article in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, typically causes wide swings in mood — sometimes from extreme incapacitating depression to euphoric recklessness.

The Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study compared the occurrence of psychiatric disorders in 388 children of 233 parents with bipolar disorder with that of 251 offspring of 143 matched parents without bipolar disorder.

The results show that children of parents with bipolar disorder are 13 times more likely to develop a bipolar-like disorder than those of parents without bipolar disorder. Similarly, having a bipolar parent increases the odds of having any mood disorder 5-fold.

Ten families in the study had two parents with bipolar spectrum disorder. Among all the children of bipolar parents, the risk of bipolar disorder was 3.6-times higher when both parents had the disorder rather than just one.

Over three-quarters of children who developed bipolar disorder experienced their first mood episode before 12 years of age.

"Because nearly half of the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder have not yet manifested any diagnosable psychiatric illness, there is a great need and opportunity for primary prevention in this high-risk population," Birmaher and colleagues emphasize.