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Some People Outgrow Bipolar Disorder


Symptoms of bipolar disorder typically begin during early adulthood, and experts used to believe they would last a lifetime. But new research indicates that nearly half of people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder between the ages of 18 and 25 may outgrow the condition by the time they are 30 years old.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is characterized by severe and unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to perform day-to-day tasks. Also known as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms may seem like separate problems rather than part of a syndrome.

University of Missouri researchers analyzed the results of two large national surveys and found that there were significant differences in the prevalence of bipolar disorder as people got older. The investigators found that 5.5 to 6.2 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 have bipolar disorder, but the prevalence drops to about 3 percent of people older than 29.

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One possible reason for the shift, according to Kenneth J. Sher, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and a coauthor of the study, could be the stress associated with life changes and social expectations experienced by young adults ages 18 to 24. As these individuals reach their late twenties, they have begun to adjust to these changes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other possible causes include biochemical changes. Imaging studies have shown that people who have bipolar disorder have some physical changes in their brain, although the significance of these changes is not yet known. Hormones may play a role as well. Genetics may also be a factor, as the condition runs in families.

If the results of this study are correct, many people who have bipolar disorder can look forward to the day when they will not need to take the medications usually necessary to manage the disease. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-seizure medications, and various antianxiety and antipsychotic drugs are prescribed, and many patients need more than one drug to adequately manage their symptoms. Side effects can be significant. Antipsychotics drugs increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, while mood stabilizers are hazardous for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Mayo Clinic
National Institute of Mental Health
University of Missouri news bureau, Sept. 29, 2009