Nearly 6-Year Delay Found Between Onset & Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

A new international study discovers it takes almost six years following symptoms of bipolar disorder and determination of diagnosis and initiation of treatment.

Many experts believe crucial opportunities to manage bipolar disorder early are being lost because of the delay.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales and Italian colleagues have published their findings in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Investigators performed a meta-analysis of 9,415 patients from 27 studies, the largest of its kind.

They discovered many patients experience distressing and disruptive symptoms for several years until receiving proper treatment for bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive illness.

According to lead researcher Dr. Matthew Large, a psychiatrist at Prince of Wales Hospital, the delay is often longer for young people because moodiness is sometimes misperceived by parents.

This is common as providers may attribute symptoms as the ups and downs of the teenage years rather than the emergence of bipolar disorder. The misdiagnosis is disturbing as bipolar can be effectively treated with mood stabilizing medication.

“This is a lost opportunity because the severity and frequency of episodes can be reduced with medication and other interventions,” Large said. “While some patients, particularly those who present with psychosis, probably do receive timely treatment, the diagnosis of the early phase of bipolar disorder can be difficult.”

“This is because mental health clinicians are sometimes unable to distinguish the depressed phase of bipolar disorder from other types of depression.”

“The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can also be missed because it relies on a detailed life history and corroborative information from caregivers and family, information that takes time and care to gather.

“Clinicians should look more closely at a patient’s history of mood symptoms, looking for distinct changes in mood, and other risk factors, for example, a family history and mood swings caused by external events such as treatment with antidepressants, overseas travel and taking drugs,” Large said.

As a result of the findings, researchers are calling for a consistent approach to the recording of the onset of symptoms of bipolar disorder. Additionally, further studies on the early symptoms and predictors of bipolar disorder and the reasons for treatment delay are indicated.

The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, and  St. John of God Clinical Research Centre and the University of Bari in Italy.

Source: University of New South Wales/EurekAlert