Genetic Study on Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis May Lead to Earlier Diagnosis

A new Danish study identifies genetic risk factors for developing bipolar disorder and psychosis among people with depression.

Bipolar disorder and thought disorders such as schizophrenia are serious mental disorders, which often have a great impact on a person’s life and well-being. In a number of cases, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are first diagnosed several years after the onset of the disorder. The delay in diagnosis is often associated with unfavorable prognosis for the course of the disorders.

The sooner the patient gets the correct diagnosis and begins targeted treatment, the better the prognosis. For this reason, researchers are aiming at identifying risk factors that will aid psychiatrists in reaching the correct diagnosis as early as possible.

Many people who develop bipolar disorder or psychosis initially come into contact with the mental health services due to depression. A research team from the Danish psychiatry project iPSYCH, examined a dataset consisting of 16,949 people aged 10-35 who had been treated for depression at a psychiatric hospital in Denmark.

“Our goal with the study was to investigate whether genetic factors are associated with an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder or psychosis among patients with depression. This knowledge can potentially be used in clinical practice to identify patients who should be monitored even more closely,” said lead author Dr. Katherine Musliner from the National Centre for Register-based Research.

Study results are published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Among the factors the researchers looked into in the study was whether the genetic risk scores for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia could possibly help psychiatrists determine which of their patients with depression was at greatest risk of subsequently developing bipolar disorder or a psychosis. The genetic risk scores represent a person’s individual genetic risk of developing the disorders.

“One thing we discovered was that the genetic risk score for bipolar disorder is associated with an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder, and that the genetic risk score for schizophrenia is associated with an increased risk of developing a psychosis among patients who have been diagnosed with depression,” says Musliner.

Musliner clarifies that although there was a correlation, the effect of the genetic risk scores were relatively small. Another member of the research group behind the study, Professor Søren Dinesen Østergaard from the Department of Clinical Medicine and Aarhus University Hospital – Psychiatry, said caution is needed when interpreting the results.

“At present, the genetic risk scores cannot contribute to early diagnosis of bipolar disorder and psychoses in clinical practice, but it cannot be ruled out that this could be the future scenario. On the other hand, our study confirms that having a parent with bipolar disorder or a psychosis is a strong predictor for the development of these particular disorders after depression.

“This underlines the importance of getting information about mental disorders in the family as part of the assessment of people suffering from depression,” he said.

Source: Aarhus University

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