BP and Heredity
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Bipolar Disorder and Heredity

Tanja M. Meece



It has long been believed by lay and medical people that bipolar disorder is hereditary. Geneticists laboring under the same belief are endeavoring to determine which genes and chromosomes, in tandem or singularly, are the carriers of bipolar disorder. Geneticists believe they may have found links between the GRK-3 gene and chromosomes 4, 6, 13, 15, and 18 and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in the case of chromosome 6. Some geneticists also think that bipolar disorder was not "selected out" during human evolution because some of its symptoms are extremely positive in small quantities. These traits or symptoms include creativity, willingness to experiment and take risks, and high productivity.

These same traits may be passed on to other family members. In the past there have been those who believed that family members did not inherit bipolar disorder, but acquired it through osmosis or living in close proximity to a bipolar sufferer - those days are gone. If earlier family members have had mental illnesses a person has a higher genetic vulnerability or disposition to become ill. In fact, evidence suggests that family members not totally effected by the inherited genes or chromosomes may still show mild symptoms of the same or a similar disorder. Ken Kendlar, a psychiatrist at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, believes that it is a 50 - 50 split between genetics and environment when it comes to developing a mental disorder.

Fifty percent of all mental health patients have a parent suffering from a mood disorder. A first-degree relative is 8 to 18 times more likely to develop a disorder. If both parents have bipolar disorder there is a 50 - 75% chance of their child having the disorder. There is a 25% chance that the child of a bipolar parent and non-bipolar parent will develop the disorder.

Those odds are daunting enough without considering environmental influences. These influences can be obvious: family relations, abuse (physical and mental), physical illnesses, stress and traumatic experiences. The influences may be self-imposed: abuse of drugs, both illegal, prescription, and over the counter, a poor diet, affecting brain and body chemistry in a negative way, alcohol and tobacco use and abuse, and other types of self-abuse. There are other culprits, which include allergens, exposure to toxic chemicals, heavy metals, noise, carbon monoxide and non-specified or general pollution.

Geneticists are researching today in hopes of providing bipolar sufferers and members of the medical field with concrete answers regarding hereditary influences and bipolar disorder. Until that day comes sufferers and their families can take solace in the validation of their beliefs by the scientific community and their continued research. Until the day comes when science finally makes further advances in the treatment and possible prevention of bipolar disorder through genetic manipulation, there are ways for sufferers and their families to deal with bipolar disorder. The most important act that families can commit to is staying knowledgeable about advancements in treatment of bipolar disorder. Secondly, families can work with qualified medical professionals and make use of the many drugs and types of therapy available. Finally, families can do everything they can to avoid environmental stressors and the possibly lethal pitfalls of self-abuse. Work together, stay knowledgeable and stay well.

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