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Bipolar & Schizophrenia Genetically Linked

Posted Mar 10 2009 3:38pm


D uring the initial months after my daughter Chloe fell ill with bipolar disorder, I was told by one medical practitioner that she thought the illness was schizophrenia. Having adjusted to the harsh reality and seriousness of bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depression ), I was terrified by the possibility that she could actually have schizophrenia.

I t seemed so much worse.

I ‘d read all that was written about bipolar disorder and its treatment, occasionally catching snippets of information regarding schizophrenia; and my reading taught me that bipolar, while serious and life-threatening, was more treatable and had a more positive prognosis than schizophrenia.

A ccording to many experts at the time, treated bipolar disorder could be managed, even stopped in its tracks. With proper medication and lifestyle choices, those diagnosed with manic depression could live happy, productive lives.

P atients with schizophrenia, however, did not enjoy the same prognosis. At the time, common theory indicated that schizophrenia, even when treated, continued to progress so that the patient would ultimately be unable to function “normally.”

C hloe’s degree of illness is severe and treatment resistant, forcing her medical team to experiment and use drugs “off label” as they tried to stabilize her.  Interestingly, some of the miracle drugs for Chloe had previously been used to treat schizophrenia or epilepsy, including powerful psychotropics such as antipsychotics and neuroleptics.

A s Chloe got well using new and unusual combinations of medication, we realized that labeling an illness was less important than finding a treatment that worked; and I began to wonder about the connections between bipolar disorder, depression, psychosis, anxiety and schizophrenia. Were they really that different?

L ots of others were thinking about the same things, including a group of Swedish researchers who recently released an new analysis of a 30-year study indicating that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder share common genetic causes, suggesting that the two conditions may actually be different manifestations of the same illness.

A nalyzing 9 million Swedish people over a 30-year period, Paul Lichtenstein and colleagues at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute reported that close relatives of people diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder had an increased risk of both diseases, and that additional evidence from half-siblings indicated that the effect was due to genetic factors.

W e showed evidence that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder partly share a common genetic cause,”  said Lichtenstein. “These results challenge the current ‘disease classification’ dichotomy between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and are consistent with a reappraisal of these disorders as distinct diagnostic entities.”

I hope this news gives hope to many without it, and encourages doctors to treat each individual according to symptoms and needs rather than “disease classification.”

A nd I hope those reading this find wellness and a happy, productive prognosis.


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