Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?

Bipolar disorder, which was referred to as manic depression in the past, is a condition that causes a person to suffer massive swings in mood. This means an individual may experience immense emotional highs, such as mania, and lows, such as depression. When seriously depressed, a bipolar individual may become lost and uninterested in the activities that normally give them pleasure. In contrast, when the mood shifts to the other direction, the person is euphoric and energetic at all times. Mood shifts can happen one or two times a year, a few times a week or on a daily basis, depending on the individual in question.

Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?

Even though scientists have not determined the exact cause of bipolar disorder, they do believe that there is a genetic component to the condition.

  • People who get bipolar disorder are 50 percent likely to have a parent with a history of being clinically depressed.
  • If a parent has bipolar disorder, the child has a 25 percent chance of developing the condition too; if both parents are bipolar, the child has a 50 to 75 percent chance.
  • Having a brother or sister with bipolar disorder is also problematic because those individuals are 8 to 18 times likelier to develop the condition, and they are two to ten times likelier to have a major depressive disorder.

Note: We must remember that bipolar disorder is not completely genetic, but individuals who have genetic issues related to depression or bipolar disorder are more susceptible to developing the condition. There are other factors in play as well, such as stress, diseases, etc.

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

When someone asks, "Is bipolar disorder hereditary," it is important to remind them of other risk factors that may cause bipolar disorder. Here are the major risk factors:

1. Lifestyle Habits

Getting very little sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of someone going through a manic episode. Taking antidepressants can also trigger someone to switch to the manic state.

Using drugs and alcohol can also trigger the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Around 50 percent of people who suffer from bipolar disorder have substance abuse problems too. It is unclear whether the sufferers have bipolar disorder because of their substance abuse problem, or whether they take substances to help them cope with the feelings they have during the episodes of mania or depression.

2. Environmental Stress

  • Environmental stresses, such as seasonal changes, different holidays or dramatic life changes can all have a negative impact on someone who is susceptible to suffering from bipolar disorder.
  • Life changes can be anything from starting at college to losing a job to having a family member leave or pass away.
  • Stress is not the sole reason behind someone becoming bipolar, but it can combine with other risk factors to trigger the condition. People who have a vulnerability to being bipolar need to take especially good care of themselves to ensure that they do not fall into bad habits when they face stressful times in their life.

3. Pregnancy

Women are known to go through a period after they give birth to their baby where they are at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder. These conditions are only triggered in women who have a biological disposition to develop the disorder in the first place, which means that pregnancy is not a sole cause of bipolar disorder in a vast majority of circumstances.

Conditions That Commonly Occur with Bipolar Disorder

If someone has bipolar disorder, they may also have other health conditions as well. These conditions are required to be diagnosed and treated, either because they may worsen your bipolar disorder – or they can render bipolar disorder treatment ineffective. These conditions include:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Individuals with PTSD may also have bipolar disorder.
  • ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Many symptoms of ADHD will overlap with those of bipolar disorder. This makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose someone correctly, especially if it's a younger child. Some individuals are diagnosed incorrectly, while others are diagnosed with both conditions.
  • Addiction to harmful substances such as drugs and alcohol are a major trigger for worsening symptoms of bipolar disorder.
  • Physical health problems, such as having heart issues, thyroid issues or obesity are also linked to bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder are more likely to have these physical problems too.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Bipolar Disorder?

Is bipolar disorder hereditary? In a way, yes, so there is no guaranteed way to prevent or cure bipolar disorder. If someone suffers from the condition, the best to do is get treatment as soon as possible. Treatment can help ensure your bipolar disorder does not get worse.

Here are some strategies you can use to ensure your symptoms do not become unmanageable.

  • Do not ignore warning signs. If you are getting symptoms that may be related to bipolar disorder, it is a good idea to get the medical or emotional care that you need.
  • Do not take drugs or alcohol under any circumstances. These substances are only going to make your symptoms worse.
  • If you are given medication by a doctor, take the medicine as directed. Do not take less or more, because doctors will often provide a precise dosage depending on your circumstances and needs. If there is a medicine issue, talk to your doctor.
  • Do not take any other medications unless they are approved by your doctor. Mixing medications can result in potentially fatal situations, especially in those who have bipolar disorder. 

Related reading: Effects of Bipolar Disorder

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