Bipolar Disorder
Diagnosis of Major Depression Might Mask Bipolar illness
May 9, 2007 - 8:32:14 AM

Approximately 4.4 percent of U.S. adults may have some form of bipolar disorder during some point in their lifetime, including about 2.4 percent with a "sub-threshold" condition, according to an article in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Individuals with bipolar disorder tend to fluctuate between periods of mania—an inappropriately elevated mood, characterized by impulsive behavior and an increased activity level—and periods of depression. They are at increased risk of suicide and other medical problems, such as cardiovascular disease, according to background information in the article. Previously, researchers estimated that about 1 percent of adults had bipolar disorder. But evidence indicates that current diagnostic criteria may be too narrow to effectively detect bipolar disorder in the general population, and that a broader definition of bipolar spectrum disorder would identify many more individuals with bipolar symptoms, the authors note.

"The present results reinforce the argument of other researchers that clinically significant sub-threshold bipolar disorder is as least as common as threshold bipolar disorder," the authors write. "Although most individuals with bipolar disorder receive treatment owing to co-morbid disorders, the lack of recognition of their underlying bipolarity leads to only a few receiving appropriate treatment." The findings suggest that a substantial proportion of those diagnosed with major depression may actually have a form of bipolar disorder.

More individuals with other psychiatric disorders should also be screened for bipolar disorder, the authors conclude. "Additional research is needed to resolve uncertainty regarding the most appropriate threshold and boundary distinctions for bipolar disorder. This uncertainty remains a major impediment to advancing the understanding of the bipolar disorder spectrum in the population."

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