Scientists detect early signs of bipolar disorder

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Researchers from the University of Manchester and Keele University have identified key indicators of bipolar disorder in individuals who have been diagnosed with other mental illnesses.

Their findings, published in the British Journal of General Practice, could significantly enhance the early detection, referral, and treatment of bipolar disorder, a condition previously referred to as manic depression.

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder

These early warning signs, detectable over several years before an official diagnosis, include:

Previous Depressive Episodes: Individuals who have experienced past depressive episodes may be at greater risk.

Sleep Disturbance: Sleep problems, such as disturbances in sleep patterns, can be indicative of bipolar disorder.

Substance Misuse: Substance abuse or misuse may be associated with the condition.

Use of Multiple Psychotropic Medications: Receipt of three or more different types of psychotropic medications within a year is a potential indicator.

Escalating Self-Harm Episodes: An increase in self-harming behavior can suggest the presence of bipolar disorder.

Frequent Primary Care Consultations: Frequent visits to primary care providers may signal an underlying issue.

Missed Scheduled GP Appointments: Failing to attend scheduled appointments with a general practitioner can be another sign.

These findings have the potential to reduce the average delay between the early manifestations of bipolar disorder and its diagnosis and effective treatment, which is currently estimated to be around six years.

The research team analyzed electronic primary healthcare data collected between January 2010 and July 2017.

They identified 2,366 individuals with a bipolar disorder diagnosis and compared them to 47,138 individuals without the condition.

Up to 3% of the UK population experiences bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.

Undiagnosed individuals often face adverse health and social outcomes, including poor social adjustment, multiple hospital admissions, compromised physical health, interpersonal violence, and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

Significance of the Study

Dr. Catharine Morgan, a Research Fellow at The University of Manchester, emphasized the importance of early treatment, stating that it can significantly mitigate the hardships faced by patients and their families.

She noted that the study provides crucial information that could help general practitioners (GPs) consider a bipolar diagnosis much earlier, enabling timely treatment and referral for specialist assessment.

Anya Francis, a researcher from the University of Manchester who facilitated the lived experience advisory panel (LEAP) for the research, shared her personal experience with bipolar II disorder and expressed hope that the study’s findings could encourage clinicians in primary care settings to be more proactive in considering bipolar disorder as a potential diagnosis.

Carolyn Chew-Graham, Professor of General Practice Research at Keele University, stressed the urgent need for better referral pathways from primary to specialist care for patients suspected of having bipolar disorder.

She highlighted the distress caused by delays in diagnosis and emphasized the importance of the “Think Bipolar” message for GPs.

The study aligns with the recent Bipolar Commission Report’s call for dedicated care pathways and support for people with bipolar disorder.

Delays in diagnosis can be up to nine years, and timely care is crucial to prevent adverse outcomes, including suicide attempts, among those eventually diagnosed with the condition.

If you care about mental health, please read studies about 6 foods you can eat to improve mental health, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and results showing Omega-3 fats may help reduce depression.

The research findings can be found in the British Journal of General Practice.

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