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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Bipolar disorder


* Not a rare disease
Other Names for this Disease
  • Bipolar affective disorder
  • Bipolar illness
  • Major affective disorder
  • Manic depression
  • Manic-depressive psychosis
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What is bipolar disorder?

Is bipolar disorder inherited?

Is genetic testing available for bipolar disorder?

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, sleep and behavior. Signs and symptoms typically include alternating periods of manic episodes (joyful or excited states) and depressive episodes (very sad, hopeless or empty states). Mood episodes may also include symptoms of both mania and depression (a mixed state). It often develops in the late teens or early adult years, but age of onset can range from childhood to late in life. Bipolar disorder can run in families, although no single gene is thought to cause the condition. Many factors acting together likely increase a person's risk to develop the disorder. Treatment may include medication and psychotherapy for preventing relapses and reducing the severity of symptoms.[1]
Last updated: 11/18/2011

Is bipolar disorder inherited?

The cause of mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, remains unclear. Studies have strongly suggested that genetics play an important role in the development of mood disorders, but there is no clear pattern of inheritance. They are likely caused by the interaction of several genes with environmental factors (called complex or multifactorial inheritance).[2] In the general population (i.e. for individuals with no close family history), the risk to develop manic depressive illness is about 2-3%. Children with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder are approximately four to six times more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have a family history of bipolar disorder. However, most children with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness.[1]

eMedicine has an article with more detailed information about the genetics of bipolar disorder. Click here to view this article.
Last updated: 11/21/2011

Is genetic testing available for bipolar disorder?

Studies of thousands of affected individuals have identified a number of "risk genes" (also called susceptibility genes) for bipolar disorder (i.e. genes in which changes appear to increase a person's risk to develop the disorder). However, none of these genes have been shown to have a strong enough effect on a person's risk to warrant clinical genetic testing for affected individuals.[2]

GeneTests lists the names of laboratories that are performing research genetic testing for bipolar disorder. To access the contact information for the research laboratories performing genetic testing, click here. Please note that most of the laboratories listed through GeneTests do not accept direct contact from patients and their families; therefore, if you are interested in learning more, you will need to work with a health care provider or a genetics professional.
Last updated: 11/21/2011

  1. Bipolar Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. September 28, 2011; Accessed 11/18/2011.
  2. Clement C Zai. Genetics of Bipolar Disorder. eMedicine. June 14, 2011; Accessed 11/21/2011.