By On February 8th, 2016

Ten Percent of People With Depression or Anxiety May Also Have Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is believed to be widely under-diagnosed, with many people going their entire lives without ever being clinically diagnosed or treated. However, a new study may provide a new avenue to improve diagnosis rates by improving identification of bipolar disorder in individuals who have already been diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

The new report, published in the British Journal of General Practice, shows that approximately 10 percent of patients in the United Kingdom who are already prescribed antidepressants for depression or anxiety also suffer from undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

“Bipolar disorder is a serious problem, with high levels of disability and the risk of suicide. When it is present in depressed patients it can easily be overlooked,” said Dr. Tom Hughes, Consultant Psychiatrist at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Leeds, in a statement “Under-diagnosis and over-diagnosis of illnesses bring problems. Our General Practitioners are the greatest part of the best nationwide health service in the world. We hope this study will be of some help to them and to their patients in helping the better recognition of this important and disabling condition.”

For the study, Hughes and his colleagues from Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds recruited young adults from general practices across the UK.  They found around 10 percent of the participants between the ages of 16 and 40 who were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety or depression also experienced unrecognized bipolar disorder. The rates were even higher for younger participants and those with a history of severe episodes of depression.

The team said they were not surprised with their findings, as bipolar disorder shares many symptoms with depression, anxiety, and even borderline personality disorder. They also noted many patients tend to experience periods of symptoms such as energy and activity, increased confidence, over-talkativeness, or being easily distracted, but do not share that with their doctors because they don’t believe it is important. This leads to misdiagnosis and improper treatment and medication.

The findings lead the team to recommend that healthcare professionals conduct more thorough reviews of their patients’ psychiatric histories of depression and anxiety. They also suggest exploring other potential risk factors for sudden bipolar episodes such as a patient’s upbringing, brain structure, environment, and history of substance abuse.

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