Bipolar Disorder: What Causes It?

There is not a specific cause that has yet been identified to bring on bipolar disorder.  There are genetic predispositions, biological factors, and stress indicators that seem to all contribute to the disorder.  Apparently, there is no clear formula for anticipating it’s onset but there are definitely some cues that can be assessed to be aware of when considering the possibility.  Symptoms are the greatest way to account for the disorder being in force.

With genetic vulnerability, some of the stats say that if you have a parent with bipolar disorder that you have an 8% chance of having it too.  Also if your parent has bipolar you may have a 12% chance of getting unipolar depression which is depression without the mania.  My children have two parents with bipolar and are not yet as young adults manifesting symptoms so even with both parents ill they may have both missed the genes.  However, we have discussed the possibility of one of their children, when they have them, having the disorder even if they don’t.

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Biologically there is the factor of brain chemistry.  There is the chance that imbalances in that chemistry might lead to high moods or low moods.  If there is an inability for the chemistry to function as needed the bipolar patient may need medication to manage those chemicals.

Then, of course, there is stress as a large part of the mix as it can trigger not only the first bout of mood swings it can continue to be a trigger as time passes.  It can be different stresses that trigger different people.  Bereavement, family conflicts, employment difficulties and more can all be stressors that cause mood swings.  The stress doesn’t have to be negative either.  Getting married, moving, a new job, having children and many other things can initiate mood changes.

Just like someone who has a genetic predisposition to diabetes may not get it with the proper care and preventative measures so the same may be true of bipolar disorder.  Even with the genetic markers in place and/or the brain chemistry leaning toward bipolar perhaps managing the stress well or with good coping mechanisms the disorder can not only be managed but perhaps avoided, to begin with.

Having said that, of course, leads to a clarification of either protective or risk factors.  Risk factors may or may not be controlled.  Risk factors are things that increase the chances of becoming ill.  In the case of bipolar, some of the main risk factors can be non-compliance with medications, alcohol abuse, illicit or prescription drug abuse, symptoms that are not severe enough to be recognized for diagnosis, an irregular lifestyle including your daily schedule, poor social support, inappropriate coping strategies.  On the positive side while there are risk factors there are also protective factors that can be used to lessen the chances of mood swings or possibly avoiding bipolar altogether.  The protective factors would naturally be the opposite: compliance with medicines, regular and balanced lifestyle choices, a good social support, and appropriate coping skills.

The ratio of manic episodes to depressive episodes will vary from patient to patient as will the frequency of those episodes.  Some patients may have long times of normal moods in between the mood swings and others may not.  Most people with bipolar will definitely experience repeated manic and/or depressive in their lifetimes.  Some patients will experience a rapid cycling pattern of mood swings as many or more than four times in a year while others may only experience a few mood swings in a lifetime.  It is important that whatever pattern a patient experiences that they learn protective factors and do their best to avoid as many mood swings as possible as any change in mood puts a patient at risk for hospitalization or worse.

Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

Bipolar Disorder_ What Causes It_


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  1. ashleyleia

    Hopefully in the not too distant future the field of epigenetics will give us some more insight into how stress and other factors affect what our cells do with the genetic code we inherit.


      Thank you so much for your input. We can only hope for some progress soon rather than remain a left over to mainstream medical research.

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