How Common Is Bipolar Disorder In Children/Adolescents, Adults And Seniors?

Dr. Gary Sachs answers the question: 'How Common Is Bipolar Disorder?'

ByGary Sachs, M.D., Director, Bipolar Clinic and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital
February 28, 2008, 11:44 AM

— -- Question: How common is bipolar disorder in children/adolescents, adults and seniors?

Answer: Bipolar disorder is a very common medical condition. It occurs in roughly 3-5 percent of the population, depending on just how we define it. It turns out that more than half of patients will actually have their first episode before age 20.

And because we believe this is a lifelong condition, what it's important, I think, to understand about it is that it is more like having heart disease, where we can understand perhaps that you've had many years with high blood pressure or high cholesterol before you have ever had a heart attack.

And the episodes of depression, abnormal mood elevation, referred to as mania or hypomania, are much more like heart attack and relatively brief periods of time are people having heart attacks, depression -- mania if you will -- and they still have the underlying either heart disease or mood disorder.

And what we want people to appreciate is that by taking good care of themselves, even when they are well, they can have a better long-term outcome by taking care of this disease just the way we would recommend taking care of heart disease.

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