Adult-Onset Bipolar Disorder Linked To Postpartum Psychiatric Episodes in First Time Mothers

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Women have developed bipolar disorder following their first childbirth: Photo by KFOR

Researchers in Denmark have found a link between requiring psychiatric help while in the postpartum stage of child birth, and adult-onset bipolar disorder. Psychiatric Disorders With Postpartum Onset: Possible Early Manifestations of Bipolar Affective Disorders, published online on December 5th, 2011, examined first-time mothers in Denmark, and compared the number of psychiatric episodes to the number of adults who developed bipolar disorder in the years following.

Bipolar Disorder Study Breakdown

Lead researcher Dr. Trine Munk-Olsen focused on first-time mothers born between 1950 and 1991. The mothers were contacted in 2006 to talk about the birth of their first child. Munk-Olsen examined the number of new mothers who sought psychiatric help for mental illnesses other than bipolar disorder in the postpartum period. The study examined 120,328 mothers in Denmark who had contacted psychiatric help for a mental disorder. Of those women, 3,062 received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder later in life.

In this study, researchers examined the amount of time that lapsed between the birth of the first child and psychiatric treatment. The research showed that women who sought treatment earlier in the cycle were more likely to receive a bipolar diagnosis later in life. Patients who experienced psychiatric events during the first month following childbirth were most likely to have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In fact, 13.87 percent of women who reported mental distress during the first month of postpartum developed bipolar disorder. Women who reported between 31 and 365 days after childbirth, however, had a 4.69 percent rate, and those reporting after one year had a 4.04 percent bipolar diagnosis rate.

Adult-Onset Bipolar Disorder

Decoded Science asked Dr. Munk-Olsen what may cause this phenomenon, and received this response:

“There is at present no clear evidence for this, but several studies have indicated that some women are predisposed to bipolar disorder triggered by childbirth. The question that we hope to answer in the future is whether these women would have had their onset with bipolar disorder if they had not had any children. Ideally we would also hope to be able to identify which women are at particular risk of having a postpartum bipolar episode.”

13.87 percent of women were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, following mental episodes 30 days postpartum: Photo by Rob from Sydney, Australia

Dr. Munk-Olsen did state that the team will be examining whether additional children have a similar link to bipolar disorder. For now, the study shows there is a link, leading researchers to a new area of study in determining what is causing bipolar disorder to develop in adults with no signs of bipolar disorder prior to child birth.

References:

Munk-Olsen, T. Psychiatric Disorders With Postpartum Onset: Possible Early Manifestations of Bipolar Affective Disorders. (Published online December 5, 2011). Archives of General Psychiatry. Accessed December 10, 2011. 

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