Physician: Bipolar Disorder and Heredity

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I am interested in adopting a child whose mother has bipolar disorder. Should I be concerned about the possibility of this being passed on to the child?

Bipolar Disorder encompasses a group of disorders which seem to have different ways of presenting. They are defined by cyclical disturbances in mood, cognition, and behavior. Bipolar Disorder affects both sexes equally. It seems to affect about 1% of the general population.

Is there a gene which causes Bipolar Disorder?

The correct answer is yes and no. The genetic basis of Bipolar Disorder probably involves multiple genes interacting with each other and with external stimuli in ways which we have not figured out yet. Bipolar disorder frequently occurs within families, although genetic factors account for only about 60% of cases. Family studies find that if one parent has a bipolar disorder the risk to the offspring is 25–30%. If both parents have this disorder the risk to the offspring may be as high as 65%.The incidence rate for first-degree relatives of a patient with Bipolar Disorder is about 7%, and an identical twin of a bipolar patient has about a 70% likelihood of developing Bipolar Disorder.

Family members of patients with Bipolar Disorder seem to also have a higher incidence of other psychological disorders. They include anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression.

What are other causes of Bipolar Disorder?

  • Early parental loss; Children who lose a parent early in life also appear to be more likely to develop bipolar disorder.
  • Socioeconomic status; Bipolar disorder is more common among people with a higher socioeconomic status.
  • Seasons of the year; A higher incidence of bipolar disorder occurs in people who were born in the winter. A study of bipolar adults found a correlation between winter birth and the presence of injured areas deep in the brain.

How does Bipolar Disorder affect the life of those with this disorder?

Bipolar Disorder can be severe and long-term, or it can be mild with infrequent episodes. Patients with the disease may experience symptoms in very different ways.

For more information you can visit the following Web site: Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation

by James Reilly, M.D.

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The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT as advice on how to deal with a particular child's situation and or problem. If your child has a specific problem you need to ask your pediatrician about it - only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and/or treatment plan be made. This Web site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.

This material has been provided by, an innovative adoption medicine private practice and educational service, dedicated to helping parents and adoption agencies with the complex pre-adoption medical issues of internationally adopted children. All medical interactions are performed via, e-mail, express mail, telephone, and fax. There is no need to make a live appointment or travel outside of your hometown. For more information, visit or call 631-499-4114.

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