Is bipolar disorder genetic?

There is a certain air of mystery that surrounds mental illness, and although science has made incredible strides in learning about potential causes of illnesses like bipolar disorder, there are still a number of unknowns. In fact, instead of zeroing in on one specific cause of bipolar disorder, the accumulation of research findings suggests that illness like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are the results of many factors acting in concert. One of these factors is genetics.

Genetics and Bipolar Disorder

It is clear that bipolar disorder tends to run in families; children with an immediate family member who has bipolar disorder are more likely to develop it themselves, with a 4 to 6 times greater chance than children without a family history of bipolar. Certain traits of bipolar also tend to run in families, such as a history of psychiatric hospitalization, co-occurring OCD, age at first manic episode, and number and frequency of manic episodes.

However, if one identical twin has bipolar, there is not a 100% chance that the other will develop it, indicating that genes are not the only factor at play in the development of bipolar disorder. It appears that genes can make a person more vulnerable to developing bipolar, but a genetic vulnerability does not guarantee that a person will develop the illness. In fact, most people who have a family history of bipolar disorder do not develop it themselves.

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