The genetics involved in bipolar disorder are complicated when it comes to what affects a child’s risk of getting the condition. While studies continue, researchers and psychiatrists do look at different predictors for higher-risk children and teens. Here are five to keep in mind:
Bipolar disorder clearly has underlying genetic factors and it tends to run in families. Research has shown that when one parent has bipolar, children have up to a 30 percent chance of developing the disorder. When both parents have it, the risk increases as high as 75 percent. When a child has bipolar, the risk to siblings is up to 25 percent and the risk for an identical twin is up to 70 percent.
#2 Anxiety disorders
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, several studies show that “youth with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop bipolar disorder than youth without anxiety disorders. However, anxiety disorders are very common in young people. Most children and teens with anxiety disorders do not develop bipolar disorder.”
#3 Familial symptoms
Children who have a parent with bipolar disorder were themselves more likely to develop the disorder if they had baseline depression, anxiety or affective lability (unstable, rapidly changing emotions). A recent study from the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at around 350 youths ages 6 to 18 who had a parent with bipolar I or II and compared them to peers without a familial risk. Those with all risk factors had a 49 percent chance of illness onset.
#4 Sleep disturbances
Sleep disturbances could be a warning sign that the children of people with bipolar disorder may develop the disorder themselves. A 2015 study in the journal Bipolar Disorders found that among offspring of parents with bipolar who hadn’t yet developed the disorder, disrupted sleeping patterns such as frequently waking during the night, “significantly predicted the onset of bipolar over time.”
#5 Problems with anger & behavior
American researchers looked at a small group of preschoolers at risk of developing bipolar disorder later in life because of their family history. The at-risk children demonstrated “significantly more intense, pervasive and clinically concerning problems in anger modulation and behavior dysregulation.” They were also more likely to have maternal-reported anxiety and oppositional defiant disorders, which involve a persistent pattern of irritability, anger, defiance or vindictiveness.
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