Attacking bipolar disorder in young adults boosts outcome, says Stanford study

STANFORD, Calif. - College students with bipolar disorder appear to function well if properly diagnosed and treated, although those with a family history of the disease may be more difficult to treat, according to a recent analysis led by Terence Ketter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

"It's possible for this group of patients to do very well," said Ketter, who examined the medical and treatment histories of college students treated at Stanford's Bipolar Disorders Clinic. "It's important to realize that these students can function well if they get accurate diagnosis and treatment." Researchers on Ketter's team are presenting their findings during two sessions at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association Meeting in New York.

According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 2.3 million American adults have bipolar disorder, which is marked by episodes of mania and depression that typically begin in adolescence or early adulthood and can last from days to months. Family history is a powerful indicator; Ketter said a member of the general population on average has a 2 percent chance of having bipolar disorder while a person with a family history of the disease has a 20 percent risk.

Misdiagnosis is common because its symptoms - which include mood swings into euphoria or irritability as well as deep depression - resemble those of other disorders, such as unipolar depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity. Ketter noted that the average time between a patient's onset of symptoms and accurate diagnosis is 10 years. Yet early and accurate diagnosis is important in preventing disease-related episodes, which potentially lead to illness progression.

"It's much easier to treat patients who have had fewer than three episodes; after that it gets incrementally more difficult to treat," said Ketter. "If we don't let episodes occur, patients can d

Contact: Michelle Brandt
Stanford University Medical Center

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