Bipolar Disorder Haunted by Childhood

Bipolar disorder worsens with childhood abuse history

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Bipolar disorder is not a mental disease you can "catch." But there are childhood experiences that could be related to how severe the condition is for those who have it.

A recent study investigated the severity of bipolar disorder among those who had and had not been abused as children.

The researchers found a strong link between childhood abuse and the intensity of bipolar disorder symptoms in the study participants.

The more abuse the participants had suffered as children, the worse their bipolar symptoms tended to be and the earlier the disease started for them.

"Talk to your psychiatrist about managing bipolar disorder."

The study, led by Sara Larsson, of the Institute of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oslo in Norway, aimed to better understand the link between childhood trauma and bipolar disorder.

The researchers studied 141 patients, aged 18 to 65, with bipolar disorder and gathered information about the history of their mental illness. Those who had experienced severe head trauma or had a neurological or intellectual disorder were not included in the study.

The researchers also interviewed the participants about any trauma they may have experienced during childhood, including physical abuse, sexual abuse or emotional abuse/neglect.

The researchers found that participants who had experienced more trauma in their childhood ended up exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder earlier in their lives.

The average start of the illness across the participants was at age 21, but the more abuse they had experienced, the earlier this onset was.

Those who had experienced trauma during childhood also had more difficulty with overall functioning. They also had a fewer number of hospitalizations, though the researchers noted that the lower number of hospitalizations was due primarily to childhood neglect.

Participants who had experienced physical abuse as children tended to have more mood episodes in their illness than those who had not been abused. They also had lower scores on how well they functioned, and they were more likely to try to harm themselves.

Those who had been sexually abused had a higher number of mood episodes than those who had not been abused.

"Our results suggest that childhood trauma is associated with a more severe course of bipolar illness," the researchers wrote. They also noted that childhood abuse or neglect of any kind sped up the stages of bipolar disorder.

The researchers noted a couple of reasons why this link between childhood trauma and the severity of bipolar disorder might exist.

They suggested that severe stress, which can affect the cognitive and emotional parts of the brain, may have played a part while children's brains are more impressionable. It's also possible that a child becomes desensitized to a particular hormone that could influence the bipolar disorder disease process.

The study was published March 22 in the journal BMC Psychiatry. The research was funded by the Eastern Norway Health Authority and the Research Council of Norway. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 28, 2013
Last Updated:
March 30, 2013