Is Bipolar Genetic And Do I Have It?
By Sarah Fader
Updated May 09, 2019
Reviewer Amanda Andrews
Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million adults in America, but what causes it? As scientific research advances, more diseases have been found to have a genetic component. Many people still assume that mental illnesses are solely the result of environmental factors. The truth is that DNA holds many secrets that we are just beginning to understand. So, Is bipolar genetic? A brief look at the subject of bipolar disorder genetic predisposition can begin to answer this question.
Benefits of Knowing Whether Bipolar Is Genetic
Have you ever wondered why people are so obsessed with finding out whether a condition is genetic? No, probably not. There are many good reasons for finding out about your family medical history.
First, if you know a condition like bipolar is genetic, you can take steps to reduce your risk if a close relative has it. Also, some people choose not to have children if they have a genetic predisposition to a medical disease. You may also want to know so you can make sure you have the insurance and funds available to get treatment for yourself or someone related to you. Scientists also hope to find a genetic marker for bipolar so that they can identify people with the condition even though its symptoms may be too subtle to recognize.
On the other hand, if bipolar weren't genetic, it would be all environmental. In that case, you would want to structure your environment in a way that decreases your risk and the risk of your children or other close relatives. You would also want to deal with any past traumas before they caused you to become mentally ill.
Either way, if you have bipolar disorder, you just might want an answer to why you have it. So often, when people get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, they go through a period of trying to understand why. They may be angry at their parents, at their boss, or even at God. Having an answer to the question 'Is bipolar disorder genetic?' can help people move past this questioning phase and begin to place their focus on getting better.
Known Risk Factors for Bipolar
Another possibility as to what causes bipolar disorder is that bipolar is both genetic and environmental. In fact, this is the conclusion that most researchers have found. Scientists have identified the following risk factors, all three of which have both components.
Relative with Bipolar
You're more likely to have bipolar disorder if you have a first-degree relative who has it. If you have one first-degree relative with bipolar, you have a 15% to 30% chance of having it. If you have two first-degree relatives with it, you have up to a 75% chance of having bipolar disorder!
A first-degree relative is the closest relative. They may be considered you're next of kin. Examples include parents and siblings. The thing about first-degree relatives is that their DNA is very similar. However, if they live together or grew up together, they may have had the same environmental influences.
Stressful Events or Situations
Stressful situations, traumatic events, major losses, and other environmental factors may contribute to someone having bipolar disorder. Not everyone who goes through these things has bipolar. So, why do some develop the disorder while others don't? It may be that a combination of their genetic weaknesses and growing up in a dysfunctional family made it more difficult to deal with the stress.
Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Drug and alcohol abuse affect your brain chemistry, so naturally, they affect whether you develop bipolar disorder. Many people think that those who abuse drugs and alcohol do it because they are 'bad' people, they've suffered a great trauma, or they want to escape from life. While any of these may be true, researchers have also concluded that there are genetic factors influencing whether you're more likely to abuse substances or not.
Markers that Indicate Bipolar Genetic Predisposition
Scientists haven't yet found a single, specific genetic marker that is always present in people with bipolar disorder. It may be that the disease is so complex because several different markers may or may not be present in people with bipolar disorder. The following are the names of three of the genes that have been studied as possible genetic markers for bipolar.
A Trigger Causes the Genetic Code to Be Expressed
Bipolar disorder genetic research is advancing, but scientists don't have a clear and definite answer to the questions people with bipolar or with relatives who have a bipolar need to answer. Is bipolar genetic? So far, it does seem that those who have bipolar disorder start out with a genetic predisposition to having the disease. However, having very similar DNA that relatives with bipolar have doesn't mean you're going to have bipolar.
What makes the difference is that something has to trigger a manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode before the gene will be expressed. Some people are lucky enough to live a happy, stress-free life. Some are taught at an early age how to deal with frustration, disappointment, stress, and loss. This preparation can prevent them from having a breakdown when life gets hard.
Those who aren't so lucky typically have environmental and biological influences that those without the disorder don't have. Examples include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Other Traumas
- Substance abuse
- Hormonal imbalance
- Certain medications
- Too much caffeine
- Job loss
- Death of a loved one
How to Know If You Have Bipolar Disorder
If you recognize that you might be at risk for bipolar disorder, it's natural to wonder whether you do have it. While researchers are busy trying to identify a single, identifiable, definite genetic marker for bipolar, certain companies are offering genetic testing for bipolar disorder. The real question here is whether such tests can tell you anything of value.
The Limitations of Genetic Testing
Many scientists and mental health professionals discourage the use of the at-home genetic tests for bipolar. After all, more research is needed to be able to pinpoint the genetic cause or causes of bipolar. Even if the test is accurate, it can't tell you whether you have bipolar or not. It can only tell you if you are susceptible to having it.
Take a Bipolar Quiz
You might be better off taking a bipolar quiz to get an idea of whether you need to be concerned about having bipolar disorder. A simple quiz can catch symptoms you might not have noticed. It only takes a few minutes to take such a quiz, and it could lead to early treatment of this serious disorder.
Check Your Symptoms
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be subtle or over-the-top. Also, there are different phases of bipolar disorder. Think over the ways you've felt, though, and behaved recently. Do you recognize any of these symptoms?
The manic phase of bipolar is often known as the 'up' or 'high' phase. Everything may seem speeded up, more important, and more exciting than when you're neither 'up' nor 'down.' You may experience any of the following symptoms.
- Feeling restless
- Feeling very happy or euphoric
- Feeling agitated or irritable
- Racing thoughts
- Not being realistic about your abilities
- Talking quickly
- Being jumpy
- Taking excessive risks
- Displaying poor judgment
- Being impulsive
Bipolar depression is a phase of bipolar disorder often known as the 'down' phase. It's more exact than just feeling 'blue.' Instead, it has specific symptoms, including:
- Feeling fatigued
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless
- Isolating yourself from friends and family
- Changes in appetite resulting in weight gain or loss
- Difficulty making decisions
- Hard time focusing
- Losing interest in usual activities or hobbies
- Talking slowly
- Suicidal thoughts, plans, or actions
Hypomania is a phase that some people with bipolar experience. Its name means 'less than manic,' indicating a phase of the condition in which you maintain a high level of function even though you have some symptoms that are similar to manic symptoms.
- Drastically-increased self-confidence
- Being grandiose
- The feeling that your thoughts are racing
- Easily distracted
- Agitation or irritability
- Engaging in pleasant but risky activities
- Needing little sleep
- Pressured speech
Talk to a Mental Health Professional
If you're still worried about having bipolar disorder, the best thing you can do is talk to a mental health professional. A therapist can listen to your fears and relay their latest insights about current research on your question of 'Is bipolar genetic?'
More than that, they can talk to you about any symptoms that concern you and help you decide what to do next. If you don't notice any symptoms of bipolar but worry about developing it in the future, a counselor can help there, too. They can teach you ways to put worry and anxiety behind you. They can help you reduce your risk by dealing with your past emotional issues.
Licensed counselors are available at BetterHelp.com, and you can start the process of finding your ideal therapist immediately. With their help, you can learn to live a happier, more fulfilling life - with or without bipolar disorder.