Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Acting in Tandem

Medical researchers are still studying the whys and wherefores of bipolar disorder through various studies. While much remains a mystery it's now clear that there is no single factor that leads to the development of this mental illness. Scientists are clear that there are many factors acting in tandem to produce the ailment.

Since it has been demonstrated that bipolar disorders run in families, researchers have invested a great deal of effort in the quest to find the specific genes that are inherited and which may increase a person's susceptibility to contracting the condition. Bits and pieces of microscopic DNA exist in all the cells that tell the body and mind how to work and develop and are passed down to family members.

Identical Twins

But it seems that genes don't explain the whole picture, since identical twins of those with bipolar disorder don't always contract the disease. This proves that other variables are at play. If genes were the only factor in developing bipolar disorder, the other twin would always end up with the ailment and research has proven that this is not the case. It is true, however, that if one twin has bipolar disorder, the risk increases for the other twin to develop the condition—and that risk is higher for the twin than for another sibling.

Research also suggests that as in other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder results from multiple genetic abnormalities. It is believed that this multiple gene involvement, along with environmental factors, serves as a trigger towards the development of the disorder. Identifying the individual genes responsible in the eventual development of bipolar disorder is a difficult task. However, scientists are hopeful that as new research tools are developed, new discoveries leading to treatments for bipolar disorder will be found.

Some of the more promising technological breakthroughs in studying the mechanics behind the development of bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are brain-imaging studies. Brain-imaging studies show scientists the process of what goes wrong inside the brain to produce the phenomena of mental illnesses. The ability to view pictures of a living brain as it works allows scientists to examine both brain structure and activity, without invasive techniques like surgery.

Chief among brain-imaging tools is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Evidence gathered with the use of these tools show that the brains of people with bipolar disorder are different than the brains of healthy individuals. As these differences gain clear identity and definition, scientists are sure to accumulate a better grasp of the causes that underlie bipolar disorder as well as increase their ability to determine the best course of treatment for individual cases of the disease.

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