Knowing Your Family History Key for Bipolar Diagnosis

Bipolar diagnosis for teens may need family history to tell it apart from depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Bipolar and depression share many symptoms. Knowing which teens are bipolar and which have depression may be hard. A recent study looked for differences.

The study interviewed teens and young adults with bipolar disorder or depression. They found depression symptoms for people with bipolar were much like the symptoms of people with depression. 

A family history of bipolar disorder was the best way to tell bipolar patients apart from depression patients.

"Tell your psychiatrist about family history issues."

Researchers, led by Elizabeth M. Scott, MD, of the Clinical Research Unit at the Brain & Mind Research Institute of the University of Sydney in Australia, wanted to know if we can tell when depression is unipolar or bipolar. Unipolar depression is most often just called depression. It has symptoms such as down mood, changes in appetite and changes in sleep.

People with bipolar disorder cycle between bouts of depression and bouts of mania where they feel high, excited and energized.

The researchers enrolled 308 people between the ages 12 and 30. The patients had either unipolar or bipolar depression. They interviewed each patient about symptoms, drug use and how much their depression interfered with daily life.

The researchers found that depression looked about the same for people with unipolar and bipolar disorder. People in both groups had similar levels of drug use, distress, depressive symptoms and interference with daily life. 

They differed in only two areas. People with unipolar had more social anxiety than those with bipolar disorder.

And people with bipolar disorder were more likely to have a family history of bipolar or psychotic symptoms than people with unipolar.

The authors concluded that family history seems like the best way to tell which kids with depression are likely to have bipolar disorder. This study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders. Funding and conflicts of interest information were not available on the journal’s website.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 5, 2012
Last Updated:
December 11, 2012