Becoming a teenage mother or middle-aged father increases the risk of bipolar disorder in children by up to 30%
- Parents under the age of 20 are more 20-30% more likely to have a bipolar child
- It is the same for mothers over 35 and fathers over 45, a worldwide survey showed
- Researchers don’t know why, but say it could be due to a lack of support or stress
Having very young or very old parents makes you more likely to have bipolar disorder, research suggests.
An international team of researchers looked at data for almost 14 million people from existing studies and compared the frequency of the condition with the age of the parents.
They found a U-shaped curve, with the youngest and oldest ages associated with the highest risk.
Fathers over the age of 45 were almost 30 cents more likely to have a child who became bipolar later in life, compared to fathers aged 25 to 29.
Women over 35 were also 20 percent more likely to have a child with bipolar disorder.
In younger parents under the age of 20, there was a 23 percent (for mothers) and 29 percent (for fathers) increased risk.
Study leader Dr. Giovanna Fico, a psychiatrist at the University of Barcelona, said: ‘What we have found is a bit unusual because both younger and older parents have an increased risk of having a child with bipolar disorder.
‘The increased risk is moderate but real.’
Having a father who was over 45 and a mother who was over 35 when you were born significantly increases your chance of developing bipolar disorder. Children of very young parents are also more vulnerable
WHAT IS BIPOLAR?
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual and often sudden changes in mood and energy levels.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Moods in those with bipolar disorder range from periods of extreme elation and energy (known as a manic episode) to periods of extreme gloom and lack of energy (known as a depressive episode).
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
According to the International Bipolar Foundation, patients are diagnosed with rapid cycling if they have four or more manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes in a 12-month period.
This severe form of the condition occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of all people with bipolar disorder.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Currently, the cause of bipolar disorder, which affects about 5.7 million American adults age 18 or older, is unknown.
Researchers say genetics may play a role, or that people with a family history of bipolar disorder are more likely to have it.
Dr. Fico said researchers ‘don’t really know’ why young and old parents bear the risk.
She said that for younger parents it could be due to environmental factors such as socio-economic problems, lack of support as well as stress.
In older parents, it may be due to genetic factors.
Bipolar disorder is one of the most common serious mental illnesses in which people suffer from major mood swings from elation to extreme depression.
It carries a high risk of suicide and premature death and is known to have a strong genetic link.
If one of the parents has bipolar disorder, there is a 15 to 30 percent chance that this will be passed on to their children.
The researchers from Spain, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands reviewed studies from around the world that looked at bipolar disorder and age.
The studies included a total of 13,424,760 participants – with 217,089 having the disorder.
Professor Maj Vinberg, professor of psychiatry at the University of Copenhagen, who was not involved in the research, said the link between age and bipolar risk could be because younger people with the disorder are more likely to have unprotected sex during their manic phases, and therefore pass it on.
He said: ‘The study raises several exciting research questions, including the potential for early prevention and intervention.
‘For example, in the daily clinical setting it is crucial to be aware that young people with bipolar disorder in their manic phases have more risky sexual behaviour, which may be associated with an increased risk of pregnancy.’
Dr. Fico added: ‘We must emphasize that this risk is moderate and it must be kept in perspective.
‘However, for those already at risk, age is another factor to consider, so doctors may need to counsel both younger and older couples if they are at risk for bipolar disorder.’
Very young or very old parents also have a higher risk for an autistic child, said Dr. Fico.
The results were published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.
Bipolar disorder affects around 5.7 million US adults and 3 million people in the UK.