Flu Acquired During Pregnancy May Increase Risk For Bipolar Disorder In Offspring

Research published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of Psychiatry states prenatal exposure to influenza may influence an onset of bipolar disorder along with a potential overlap of schizophrenia, as both conditions share similar suspected causes.

The study, funded by the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), was co-authored by Dr. Alan Brown – a professor of clinical psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University College of Physicians.

Using child health and development study databases, Brown and his colleagues at Columbia University and Kaiser Permanente identified data on mothers who gave birth between 1959 and 1966 and their offspring. Researchers found 92 cases of bipolar disorder and compared them with 722 people who matched in terms of occurrence of maternal influenza during pregnancy.

The risk of bipolar disorder was seen to quadruple with exposure to flu anytime during the pregnancy but especially so in the second and third trimesters. An even higher potential for acquiring a subtype of bipolar disorder with psychotic features was also assessed by researchers.

While the study found an association of prenatal exposure to influenza and a higher risk of bipolar disorder, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Regardless, the researchers urge prospective mothers to take preventative measures such as getting flu shots prior to or during the earliest stage of pregnancy and practice avoidance with those who are symptomatically sick.

Bipolar disorder, previously referred to as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by vacillating emotional extremes with low bouts of clinical depression and frenzied periods of mania. Often people with bipolar disorder exhibiting psychotic symptoms can be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by an interruption of thought processes and by a deficit of appropriate emotional responses.

Common complex symptoms of the disorder include auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and disorganized thinking. The onset of symptoms typically occurs in young adulthood and can significantly contribute to social and occupational dysfunction. However, the symptoms of the disorder can appear in infancy and childhood.

Social problems such as long-term unemployment, poverty, and homelessness as well as substance abuse are common among schizophrenics. The average life expectancy of people with the disorder is 12 to 15 years less than those without, typically due to a higher suicide rate.

Although the causes can vary by situation, both conditions can develop due to genetic and environmental factors. A family history of schizophrenia means a person has a 20 to 40 percent likelihood of being diagnosed, and a child of two parents with the condition has a 46 percent chance of developing schizophrenia. Environmental influences, such as drug use and prenatal stressors, have been linked to the disorder.

Children of those who suffer from manic depression are predisposed to have the same condition, as some genetic studies have associated chromosomal abnormalities and bipolar disorder. There is fairly consistent evidence that traumatic or abusive childhood life events can contribute to the onset – triggering recurrences of erratic hyperactivity and depression. Bipolar disorder can co-occur with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder.

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