Cognitive Abnormalities in Patients Newly Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

September 24, 2020 · Posted in Course of Illness, Genetics, Risk Factors · Comment 

At the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Kamilla Miskowiak described a study in which she and her colleagues grouped 158 patients in remission from recently diagnosed bipolar disorder into groups based on their neurocognitive functioning and particularly their emotional processing, and also observed cognitive function in 52 first-degree relatives of those with bipolar disorder. These groups were compared to 110 healthy control participants.

Miskowiak and colleagues identified three clusters among the patients with bipolar disorder: 23% were globally impaired, 31% were selectively impaired, and 46% had normal cognition. Those who were globally impaired had problems recognizing facial expressions in social scenarios. Cognitive impairment has previously been documented in patients who have had a longer duration or more episodes of bipolar illness.

First-degree relatives of cognitively impaired patients had impaired recognition of facial expressions, but their cognition in non-emotional areas was normal. Miskowiak and colleagues concluded that the impaired affective cognition in relatives of patients with neurocognitive impairment was an indication of inherited risk for bipolar disorder.

Editor’s Note: Children with bipolar disorder also have this deficit in facial emotion recognition. That 23% of recently diagnosed patients with bipolar disorder were globally impaired indicates that some cognitive impairments can emerge early in the course of bipolar disorder. Researcher Lakshmi Yatham has previously found that cognition improves after a first episode of mania only if no further episodes occur in the one year following, indicating that episode prevention is crucial even after a patient’s first episode.

Early Precursors of Mood Disorders in Young Children of Parents with Bipolar or Unipolar Disorder

July 24, 2020 · Posted in Course of Illness, Risk Factors · Comment 

At the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Caroline Vandeleur presented findings from a 13-year study of children in Switzerland who have a parent with bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder. In contrast to findings from the US presented by Danella Hafeman, Vandeleur and colleagues found no evidence of psychopathology in 4 year-olds. They did find that in 7-year-olds, children of a parent with major depressive disorder were four times more likely to have a separation anxiety disorder. In an overall sample of 449 children with a mean age of 10 who were followed up for 13 years, major depression tended to be preceded by anxiety disorders. Participants who went on to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder had earlier symptoms of depression, subthreshold hypomania, conduct disorders, and drug abuse. These were especially common in those who had a parent with bipolar disorder.

Editor’s Note: These data indirectly confirm other observations in which children at high risk for mood disorders in the US showed earlier signs of psychopathology than those in other countries including the Netherlands and Canada.

Clinical Risk Prediction in Youth at Risk for Bipolar Spectrum Disorder and Relapse

July 21, 2020 · Posted in Course of Illness, Diagnosis, Risk Factors · Comment 

Researchers from two 15-year studies of bipolar youth, COBY (The Coarse and Outcome of Bipolar Youth Study) and BIOS (Bipolar Offspring Family Study), have used the longitudinal data from their studies in order to create a risk calculator that can predict an individual’s likelihood of illness.

At the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Danella Hafeman presented research on a risk calculator that predicts the 5-year risk for onset of a bipolar disorder spectrum diagnosis (BPSD) in young people at high risk and can reasonably distinguish those who will receive a diagnosis from those who will not.

Some of the factors used in the risk calculator include dimensional measures of mania, depression, anxiety, and mood lability; psychosocial functioning; and the age at which parents were diagnosed with a mood disorder.

Hafeman reported that there was a 25% risk that offspring of a bipolar parent would develop a bipolar disorder spectrum diagnosis. In a population ranging in age from 6 to 18 years, Hafeman and colleagues found that anxiety and depression symptoms were a sign of vulnerability to a bipolar spectrum disorder, while subthreshold manic symptoms indicated that a bipolar spectrum disorder could soon emerge. Sudden or exaggerated changes in mood were also an important predictor of BPSD.

Hafeman and colleauges noted that even in children as young as 2 to 5 years old, there were already signs of anxiety, aggression, attention problems, depression, and sudden mood changes in those who would go on to receive a diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorder.

The researchers were also able to predict which patients with BPSD would have a relapse. According to Hafeman and colleagues, “The most influential recurrence risk factors were shorter recovery lengths, younger age at assessment, earlier mood onset, and more severe prior depression.”

Editor’s Note: Offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder are at high risk for anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, and bipolar disorder. Parents should be alert for the symptoms of these illnesses and seek evaluation and treatment for their children as necessary. Parents should also be aware of the risk factors above that contributed to the risk calculator.

Parents can aid physicians in their evaluation by joining our Child Network and keeping weekly ratings of their children’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, oppositional behavior, and mania.

Increased Risk for Dementia in Bipolar Disorder

July 14, 2020 · Posted in Comorbidities, Risk Factors · Comment 

At the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Flavio Kapczinski described a recent meta-analysis of 10 studies that found that bipolar disorder is a risk factor for dementia, and that lithium treatment can decrease the incidence of dementia in people with bipolar disorder.

The ten studies included a total of 6,859 participants with bipolar disorder and 487,966 healthy control participants. People with bipolar disorder were 2.96 times more likely to develop dementia than those without bipolar disorder. Five of the studies included information about  treatment with lithium, which was found to decrease the risk of dementia among those with bipolar disorder by a little more than half (0.54).

Five studies also revealed that the risk of progression to dementia was higher among those with bipolar disorder than among those with major depressive disorder. In addition, one of the ten studies explored predictors of dementia in people with bipolar disorder and found that those who experienced more mood episodes had a higher risk of dementia.

Editor’s Note: It appears that the number of mood episodes a person experiences predicts dementia, and it has previously been found to predict the emergence of cognitive impairment. Prevention is the name of the game, and lithium is the best defense. My new mantra: “Prevent Episodes, Protect the Brain, Use More Lithium.”

Bipolar Disorder in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

July 3, 2020 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

At the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Veerle Bergink reported several findings from a recent meta-analysis of articles on pregnancy and bipolar disorder. Bergink and colleagues found that pregnant women with bipolar disorder have a 37% risk of a postpartum relapse, more than twice the risk of postpartum mental disorders in the general population.

Using lithium as a treatment in the first trimester of pregnancy increased risk of congenital malformations in the fetus, but the risk was much smaller than previously thought and could be monitored by ultrasound.

Bergink and colleagues also reported that in a sample of 645 women with first-onset postpartum psychosis who received followup over a period of 7 to 25 years, 43% had no subsequent severe episodes outside of the postpartum period.

Another finding was that women with postpartum severe depression or mania had abnormalities in T cells, which are important in immune response.

Childbirth and Bipolar Disorder

June 30, 2020 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

In an abstract for virtual presentation at the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Ian Jones presented evidence that childbirth may trigger onset of bipolar disorder.

Jones found that 15% of women who experience postpartum mood disorders shortly after childbirth will go on to develop bipolar disorder over time. A previous diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder is the biggest predictor that a woman will be readmitted for treatment of postpartum mental illness.

In addition, one of the biggest risk factors for postpartum mental disorders is a family history of bipolar disorder in first-degree relatives. The risk of postpartum mental disorders also increases when first-degree relatives have a psychiatric illness of any kind.

Editor’s Note:  These data are consistent with research on sensitization/kindling, the idea that while early mood episodes may be triggered by psychosocial stress and other endocrine factors, later episodes may emerge more spontaneously.  In this case, the stress associated with childbirth can lead to a subsequent bipolar diagnosis (with or without a precipitating stressor) in the future.

The psychosocial stress of childbirth and subsequent sleep deprivation can be severe, and those with a history of a mood disorder should seek additional support during such a time.

Cannabis Use in Adolescence Linked to Depression and Suicidality in Young Adulthood

April 24, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 
Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

In a meta-analysis published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2019, researcher Gabriella Gobbi and colleagues analyzed findings from 11 studies including a total of 23,317 participants and found that cannabis use in adolescence (before age 18) was associated with a significantly increased risk of depression, suicidality, and suicide attempts in young adulthood (between 18 and 32 years of age).

The researchers did not find a link between cannabis use and anxiety.

Editor’s Note: Cannabis use is not as harmless as many teens may believe.

In Animal Model, Long-Term THC Exposure Interferes with Cortical Control of the Nucleus Accumbens

April 21, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 
Cannabis plant. Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

In an article in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers Eun-Kyung Hwang and Carl R. Lupica reported that in rats, long-term use of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) weakens input from the cortex to the reward area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Long-term THC use also strengthens connections to the NAc from emotional control (limbic) regions, such as the basolateral amygdala and ventral hippocampus. Hwang and Lupica reason that this shift from cortical control of the NAc to limbic control likely contributes to the cognitive and psychiatric symptoms associated with cannabis use.

Editor’s Note: Street marijuana largely contains THC rather than CBD, the beneficial, anxiety-reducing component of cannabis. Cannabis products are being decriminalized, but it is important to remember that those with THC are linked to cannabis use disorder and increased susceptibility to psychiatric illness. Patients with bipolar disorder who use marijuana also have a more adverse course of illness than those who do not use it.

One Hit of THC Tied to Psychotic Symptoms in Adults with No History of Mental Illness

April 17, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 
A woman rolls a joint. Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

In a meta-analysis published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, researcher Guy Hindley and colleagues reported that in otherwise healthy adults, a single dose of THC (equivalent to smoking one joint) produced transient psychotic symptoms.

The meta-analysis included 9 studies with a total of 196 participants. The researchers included studies in which participants took tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana) or placebo, and psychotic symptoms were measured.

The researchers also sought out studies in which cannabidiol or CBD was given in combination with THC, but there were not enough of these to derive significant results. CBD does not produce schizophrenia-like symptoms on its own, and some think it may have anti-psychotic effects, but findings on this topic have been mixed.

Taking THC had a large effect size on total psychotic symptoms and negative symptom severity (such as emotional flatness or avolition). It also had an effect on positive symptom severity (for example, hallucinations or delusions). The effects were larger with intravenous administration than with inhaled administration, and tobacco smokers had less severe positive symptoms.

Of four studies that included CBD, only one found that CBD reduced THC-induced psychotic symptoms.

Editor’s Note: Longer-term use of marijuana in adolescents and young adults doubles the risk of psychosis, and other data suggest that chronic use of marijuana at high doses can be associated with new onset of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. As cannabis products are being decriminalized around the US, it is worth noting some of the risks of marijuana use, particularly marijuana with a high level of THC.

Predicting Onset of Bipolar Disorder in Children at High Risk: Part I

April 3, 2020 · Posted in Diagnosis, Risk Factors · Comment 

teenage boy sitting on floor with arms on kneesAt the 2019 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one symposium was devoted to new research on predicting onset of bipolar disorder in children who have a family history of the disorder. Below are some of the findings that were reported.

Symptom Progression

In offspring of parents with bipolar disorder, researcher Anne Cecilia Duffy found that symptoms in the children tended to progress in a typical sequence. Childhood sleep and anxiety disorders were first to appear, then depressive symptoms, then bipolar disorder.

Different Types of Illness May Respond Best to Different Medications

Duffy’s research also suggested links between illness features and a good response to specific medications. Those offspring who developed a psychotic spectrum disorder responded best to atypical antipsychotic medication. Those with classical episodic bipolar I disorder responded well to lithium, especially if there was a family history of lithium responsiveness. Those offspring with bipolar II (and anxiety and substance abuse) responded well to anticonvulsant medications.
If parents with bipolar disorder had experienced early onset of their illness, their children were more likely to receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

The offspring of lithium-responsive parents tended to be gifted students, while those from lithium non-responders tended to be poorer students.

Comparing Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder and Unipolar Depression

Researcher Martin Preisig and colleagues also showed that parental early onset of bipolar disorder (before age 21) was a risk factor for the offspring receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Parental oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was also a risk factor for bipolar disorder in the offspring. The emergence of depression, conduct disorder, drug use, and sub-syndromal hypomanic symptoms also predicted the onset of mania during childhood.

Conversely, sexual abuse and witnessing violence were strong risk factors associated with a diagnosis of major (unipolar) depressive disorder. Being female and experiencing separation anxiety were also factors that predicted unipolar depression.

Predicting Conversion to Mania

Researcher Danella M. Hafeman reported that mood swings (referred to in the literature as “affective lability”), depression/anxiety, and having a parent who had an early onset of bipolar disorder were linked to later diagnoses of mania. Immediate risk factors that predicted an imminent onset of mania included affective lability, substance abuse, and the presence of sub-threshold manic symptoms.

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