Many people trying to better understand how bipolar disorder develops wonder if the condition is genetic. The answer is “yes.” However, while there is a genetic link, a number of other factors also contribute to the development of bipolar disorder, including environmental and life experiences.
Heredity and Bipolar Disorder
Is bipolar hereditary? The short answer is “somewhat.” While bipolar disorder and heredity are not an exact link, there is evidence of a correlation that indicates a propensity for bipolar disorder in some gene pools. People who have relatives with bipolar disorder are ten times more likely to develop it. Someone who has a parent with bipolar disorder has a 10–25% greater chance of also developing the condition. Additional genetic factors influence the possible development of bipolar disorder, including brain activity and size. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a combination of environmental and genetic factors decide if someone will develop bipolar disorder.
How Genes Influence Bipolar Disorder
In genetic testing, bipolar patients showed an increased expression of genes associated with the condition. Genetic predisposition doesn’t necessarily mean one is guaranteed to have bipolar disorder, but it does increase the odds of diagnosis. Genetics account for between 60–80% of the cause of bipolar disorder.
However, it is important to distinguish between the potential for genetic exposure to a condition and the likelihood of developing it. Even if you have a family member with bipolar disorder, it doesn’t guarantee that you will develop it yourself. When we consider the plethora of genetic material we are connected to from both sides of our family of origin, it is statistically possible to have any number of manifestations. Scientists are exploring potential abnormalities in particular gene sequences that may influence the development of bipolar.
Does Bipolar Run in Families?
Mental health assessments commonly ask about family of origin. Part of that information asks about the mental health history of your immediate family. If you have a family history of bipolar disorder, genetics are important to consider in identifying whether you have a predisposition for that condition.
Does this mean that bipolar runs in families? Not exactly. Because there are multiple factors influencing the development of a condition such as bipolar disorder, there isn’t an exact translation between the familial prevalence of the disorder and a specific individual having it. Bipolar twin studies show that one twin can have the condition while the other does not. The likelihood of an identical twin developing bipolar disorder if their twin has the condition is between 40–70%. This statistic indicates that there is more than just a biological or genetic cause for bipolar disorder; there are a number of causal factors, including environment, brain structure, genetics and life events.
Environmental & Other Factors
As with any other condition, it is important to look at all the possible risk factors for bipolar disorder. The development of bipolar is not a simple equation of cause and effect. Is bipolar genetic or environmental? The answer is somewhat ambiguous; there are both environmental factors and biological causes of bipolar disorder. Head trauma such as concussions and traumatic brain injuries can also influence the development of bipolar disorder. Researchers are also exploring whether dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters malfunction in the brains of people with bipolar disorder, which could help explain the significant and sometimes debilitating emotional shifts that occur as a result of the condition. Life events are also potential contributing factors in the development of bipolar disorder. If one is predisposed genetically to bipolar disorder and then a major life event occurs, that could precipitate the development of the condition.
Continuing Research & Studies
Bipolar genetics research is teaching us new information about this condition and the ways mental health is impacted by genetic material. Bipolar disorder impacts 60 million people worldwide, so research to help improve the quality of life for those with this condition is crucial.
The benefits of genetic research on mental health conditions are becoming clear. As scientists gain knowledge about the ways in which bipolar disorder and other conditions function within the brain and human genome, they can influence the way these conditions manifest themselves and potentially reduce the impact of symptoms. Genetic information about mental health also helps destigmatize these conditions so that people can be more open about their symptoms and access help earlier.
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Kerner, Berit. “Genetics of bipolar disorder.” The Application of Clinical Genetics. February 12, 2014. Accessed July 11, 2019.