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Bipolar Disorder by the Numbers

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Bipolar disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that causes dramatic mood swings and changes in energy levels. These mood swings range from high (mania) to low (depression). They may last for hours, days, weeks, or months.1,2

BPD is a common condition. It ranks as the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide. But it is treatable.1

Who gets bipolar disorder?

BPD impacts nearly 6 million adults in the United States. That equates to about 3 out of every 10 people age 18 and older. About half of people with the condition are diagnosed by age 25. But some people are diagnosed in childhood or their late 40s or 50s.1

More than 2 out of 3 people with BPD have at least 1 close relative with the condition, or with major depression. So, doctors believe genetics plays a role in who develops bipolar disorder.1

Studies have shown that children who experience abuse are at higher risk of developing BPD. This abuse may include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as well as neglect. Childhood abuse is also tied to higher rates of other mental health conditions and poor response to BPD treatment.3

BPD affects all genders, races, ethnic groups, and social classes equally. Rates of the condition are steady across all countries.1,2

Differences between men and women

Men and women are equally likely to develop BPD. But research shows that women are more likely than men to cycle quickly between high and low moods. Women also have more depressive periods and more episodes of mixed high and low moods than men with the condition.1

In addition, there are differences in how accurately men and women are diagnosed. Women are much more likely to be misdiagnosed with depression. Men are often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. Both men and women face up to 10 years of misdiagnosis before getting an accurate diagnosis. Also, BPD shortens men’s lifespan more than women’s.1,2

Differences between adults and children

Children with parents who have the disorder are more likely to have the condition. A child with 1 parent who has BPD has a 15 to 30 percent chance of developing the condition. If both parents have BPD, their children face a 50 to 75 percent chance of developing it.1

Bipolar symptoms may look different in children than in adults. During a manic period, children may be irritable and have destructive outbursts. Adults tend to be elated or euphoric during this period. During depressive episodes, children may:2

  • Complain about headaches, stomachaches, or tiredness
  • Perform poorly in school
  • Be irritable or extremely sensitive to rejection and failure
  • Isolate themselves

Bipolar in children is typically diagnosed as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) since bipolar is typically diagnosed as an adult disorder.

Lifespan and bipolar disorder

On average, people living with BPD live 9 to 13 years less than their peers. This is partially due to the high rates of suicide among people living with the condition. One in 5 complete suicide.1,2

Life expectancy is also shortened by higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. More than half of people with BPD have a medically unhealthy body weight. This is partially due to prescription drugs that may cause weight gain. Higher body weight is linked to more severe and more frequent mood swings, poor response to medicine, and higher suicide risk.2

A treatment plan that includes therapy, prescription drugs, and lifestyle changes can help people with bipolar disease achieve their longest and best life.2

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