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Bipolar Disorder

Genes play a large role in the etiology of bipolar disorder - approximately 50% have relatives with this disorder. If both of your parents have this disorder your chances are 75%. If you have a family member who has the bipolar disorder you are also at risk of developing unipolar disorder.

In addition to drug treatment, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is used for depression and mania when medications do not work. 

Also bright light has been used for a seasonal form of winter depression.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation has been used for bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder rarely comes without other disorders. As we take a look at the affective spectrum, we see that many disorders are included and it is common for people to have one or many additional disorders. 

The following have been identified (so far) as part of the medical spectrum which may accompany affective disorders. 

  • attention deficit disorder (ADD & ADHD) 
  • body dysmorphic disorder 
  • cataplexy 
  • eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, binging) 
  • fibromyalgia (includes chronic fatigue) 
  • impulse-control disorders
  • irritable bowel syndrome 
  • kleptomania 
  • migraine/severe headache 
  • narcolepsy 
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • panic disorder 
  • Tourette's disorder 

The following may also be a part of the spectrum accompanying affective disorders. 

  • anxiety disorders 
  • autism 
  • chronic pain 
  • intermittent explosive disorder 
  • pathological gambling 
  • pyromania 
  • personality disorders 
  • post traumatic stress disorder 
  • substance abuse and addiction (includes alcoholism) 
  • trichotillomania

All disorders must be diagnosed and treated. 

Therapy such as cognitive therapy is particularly helpful in working through one's life and group therapy with this population is also particularly helpful. Studies has shown that this form of therapy has reduced the number of hospitalizations and failed marriages.

A "bad childhood" has nothing to do with developing bipolar disorder. However families are encouraged to become involved with the patient's treatment plan and become educated about the disorder. 

Recently a study revealed that out of people that were hospitalized due to mania or mixed episodes, 50% were symptom free a year later. However 25% of that had a satisfactory job and family life. Another study revealed that four years later one third were supporting themselves by working.  


Harvard Mental Health Letter
April 2001
May 2001

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