Between 1 - 2 million Americans may suffer from bipolar disorder. Researchers estimate that about 1% of Americans experience bipolar disorder during the course of their lifetime, but some studies indicate that prevalence may be as high as 4%. There is differing opinion on how to diagnose and categorize bipolar symptoms, which affects these estimates. The majority of people with bipolar disorder also have other psychiatric disorders, particularly anxiety and substance abuse.
Bipolar disorder usually first occurs between the ages of 15 - 30 years, with an average age of onset at 25 years. However, bipolar disorder can affect people of all ages, including children. Bipolar disorder that occurs late in life often accompanies medical and neurological problems (particularly cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke). It is less likely to be associated with a family history of the disorder than earlier-onset bipolar disorder.
Researchers are also investigating whether the age of a parent is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder in the offspring. Some studies have reported that increasing paternal age is associated with fetal gene mutations that pose a higher risk for bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder affects both sexes equally, but there is a higher incidence of rapid cycling, mixed states, and cyclothymia in women. Early-onset bipolar disorder tends to occur more frequently in men and it is associated with a more severe condition. Men with bipolar disorder also tend to have higher rates of substance abuse (drugs, alcohol) than women.
Bipolar disorder frequently occurs within families. Family members of patients with bipolar disorder also have a higher than average incidence of other psychiatric problems. They include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and major depression.
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