Early detection

Why is early detection of bipolar disorder important?

Early detection of bipolar disorder can prevent or delay the onset of the disorder, and improve clinical outcomes in people who develop it.

What is the evidence regarding early detection of bipolar disorder?

Moderate to high quality evidence suggests large effects of having psychotic symptoms or a family history of bipolar disorder as risk factors for transition to bipolar disorder in people with major depression. There was a medium-sized effect of higher risk of transition to bipolar disorder with early age of onset of depression, and a small effect of having a family history of any mood disorder. The risk of transition to bipolar disorder was greatest in the early stages of having a major depressive disorder (up to 5 years).

Moderate quality evidence suggests subclinical symptoms preceding an initial mood episode last around 27 months, and subclinical symptoms preceding a recurrent mood episode last around 1 month. Common subclinical symptoms (in order of decreasing prevalence) are too much energy, diminished ability to think, indecisiveness, pressured speech, talkative, elated mood, academic or work difficulties, insomnia and depressed mood. Less common subclinical symptoms (in order of decreasing prevalence) are over-productive/goal-directed behaviour, agitation, rage attacks, racing thoughts, anxiety, decreased need for sleep, irritable mood, fatigue, distractibility, sleep disturbance, disinhibition, weight loss/loss of appetite, hyperactivity, suicidal thoughts, feeling of worthlessness, mood swings, delusions, unkempt or bizarre appearance, guilt, and auditory hallucinations. Rare subclinical symptoms (in order of decreasing prevalence) are loss of interest, somatic complaints, being over-sensitive, hypersexuality, flight of ideas, hypersomnia, weight gain, self-harm, suicide attempts, and visual hallucinations.

Low quality evidence is unable to determine the accuracy of instruments used for early detection. Review authors conclude that the Child Behavioral Checklist – Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Phenotype and the General Behavioral Inventory – Revised have the better validity and utility than the Hypomanic Personality Scale, the Behavioral Activation Scale or the Family History Scale, and that more studies assessing these scales are required.

September 2021

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Last updated at: 2:15 pm, 15th February 2022
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