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Young Adults Likely to Outgrow Bipolar Disorder in Later Life

ST. LOUIS – A new study from University of Missouri has shown that nearly half of the people diagnosed with bipolar disorder between the ages of 18 and 25 are likely to outgrow the disorder by the time they reach 30.

With the symptoms often starting in early adulthood, bipolar disorder has been thought of traditionally as a lifelong disorder.

“Using two large nationally representative studies, we found that there was a strikingly high peak prevalence of bipolar disorders in emerging adulthood,” said David Cicero, doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science and lead author of the paper.

“During the third decade of life, the prevalence of the disorder appears to resolve substantially, suggesting patients become less symptomatic and may have a greater chance of recovery,” he added.

While analysing the data, researchers found an “age gradient” in the prevalence of bipolar disorder, with part of the population appearing to outgrow the disorder.

The study showed that 5.5 to 6.2 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 suffer from bipolar disorder, but only about 3 percent of people older than 29 suffer from bipolar disorder.

“Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are going through significant life changes and social strain, which could influence both the onset and course of the disorder,” said Kenneth J. Sher, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and co-author of the study.

“During this period of life, young adults are exploring new roles and relationships and begin to leave their parents’ homes for school or work. By the mid 20s, adults have begun to adjust to these changes and begin to settle down and form committed relationships,” the expert added.

Researchers predict the prevalence of the disorder also could be affected by brain development, particularly the prefrontal ortex, which controls perception, senses, personality and intelligence.

“The maturing of the prefrontal cortex of the brain around 25 years of age could biologically explain the developmentally limited aspect of bipolar disorder,” Cicero said.

“Other researchers have found a similar pattern in young adults with alcohol or substance abuse disorders,” he added.

The study is published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.