Age Gives Clues About Bipolar Symptoms

Bipolar disorder patients diagnosed as teens may have more depression over their lifetime

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

(RxWiki News) Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed when people are in their 20s. Some people get diagnosed earlier or later. The age of diagnosis could tell doctors what to expect.

A recent study assessed whether the age of diagnosis was related to the type of bipolar symptoms people had.

Results showed that over a 17-year period, people who were diagnosed as teens spent a little more than a month longer feeling depressed compared to older age groups. People with an early diagnosis also reported more drug abuse and panic attacks.

The authors concluded that teens diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have slightly different symptoms than people who were diagnosed at an older age. Knowing this may help doctors and patients plan better treatments.

"Talk to a psychiatrist about your bipolar symptoms."

The study, led by William Coryell, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, enrolled 427 patients with bipolar disorder and followed them for about 17 years.

During the study, the researchers met with patients twice a year for the first five years. Then, patients were interviewed once a year after that. On average, patients were followed for about 17 years.

People with bipolar disorder have episodes of mania and depression. In a manic episode, they feel high and excited.   In a depressive episode, they feel slowed down and sad. People with bipolar disorder can also go through periods in which they don't experience mania or depression.

The researchers interviewed patients about their bipolar symptoms, other mental health issues and the amount of time they spent experiencing mania and depression.

Participants were then split into three groups. The early-onset group included patients whose bipolar disorder was first diagnosed when they were 20 years old or younger. The middle-onset group included patients who were diagnosed in their 20s. The late-onset group included patients who were first diagnosed at age 30 or later.

The researchers found that people in the early-onset group spent more time in depressive episodes. That extra time feeling depressed was not a product of time, meaning that the amount of time a person spent experiencing depression was not higher just because they were older and had more years with bipolar disorder.

Over the study period, the early-onset group spent an average of 40 weeks experiencing depression. The middle-onset group spent about 31 weeks in depressive episodes. And the late-onset group had depression for about 35 weeks.

The authors said that the difference was small, but one to two extra months of depression can be a big difference for people suffering from bipolar disorder.

The patients in the early-onset group also reported drug abuse about twice as often as people in the other age groups. Also, patients in the early-onset group had more panic attacks over the study period than patients in the other groups.

The authors concluded that being diagnosed early may put patients with bipolar disorder at higher risk of depression, drug use and panic attacks. Doctors can pay special attention to these issues in people who are diagnosed as teens.

The authors said that their study was only an observation. They did not control what treatments people were getting, so there was no way of knowing how different treatments may have affected the observations in this study.

This study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Martin Keller, an author on the study, reported affiliations with multiple pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 26, 2013
Last Updated:
March 1, 2013