Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?

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The facts are clear: genetics play a large part in a person’s susceptibility to developing bipolar disorder. Research shows that 75-80% of all bipolar victims have a family member that also suffers with some variety of the disorder. That does not necessarily mean that if you have a family member with bipolar disorder, you will have an 80% greater risk of developing the same symptoms. What it means is that you will have an 80% chance of having the trigger that can turn on the disorder within your own brain and body if you have family members who were or are diagnosed to be bipolar.

Let me explain.  The genetic link for bipolar disorder is not like the hereditary factors of other diseases since bipolar seems to have (in many cases) some sort of environmental trigger which actually turns on the disease.  Should you be lucky enough to avoid these triggers, you could keep the disease at bay in your own life even if you carry the hereditary gene that causes it.

So, what are some of these environmental triggers that have been linked to bipolar disorder?  Here are just a few of the most common to watch out for:

  • Alcohol and drug exposure while in utero
  • Phychosocial stressors like abuse, abandonment, etc.
  • Head trauma
  • Certain illnesses
  • Other stresses as a child ( a growing brain with the bipolar gene may react to certain stresses much more severely than  a growing brain void of the bipolar gene).
  • Unusual sleep/wake cycling
  • Diet
  • Unknown environmental factors

In short, it appears from much of the research on bipolar disorder that the genes a person has only plays a part in the development of the disease while a person’s environment plays another significant part in whether or not the disorder can be prevented in certain individuals. That is why one member of a family may come down with the disease and another doesn’t even though they have identical hereditary factors.

Preventing Bipolar Disorder Despite Strong Hereditary Factors

Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?While it is true that bipolar disorder is hereditary to  a point, those genes can be circumvented in some cases simply by being aware of your personal susceptibility and taking the proper precautions to keep your mental and physical health strong.  That said, not everyone can keep bipolar disorder form interfering with their lives, but some can. Here are just a few ways in which you can try and prevent “turning on” those bipolar genes:

  •  Schedule your time well.  Keeping a good work, family and sleep schedule is very important in maintaining balance in your days and keeping stress from getting the better of you.
  • Learn how to manage stressful situations well and avoid it when possible. For instance, try and keep your commitments to a manageable level and deal with relational problems right away to keep them from building into a major stressor in your life.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug use
  • See a therapist if needed
  • Take time to relax.  Exercise regularly and indulge in some enjoyable, stress free fun on a regular basis.

Remember, you can not always avoid stress or even keep your life from becoming a bit chaotic and out of control at times.  The key here is to try and keep yourself well balanced so you can better handle those times when life does throw you a bit off a curve.  Not every stress is going to put you at risk for bipolar but putting your body and mind under constant stress may trigger the disorder in some people.

Bipolar disorder is hereditary but does that in any way mean that a person with bipolar in their family is going to come down with the disease, too? It does mean that you have to be more vigilant to watch out for signs of the disorder and get help right away if you suspect problems.  Bipolar can be treated in many of its victims, especially when caught early.  Be sure to keep an open dialogue with your doctor and report any potential warning signs right away.


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