Epidemiology and risk factors for bipolar disorder

Tobias A Rowland, Steven Marwaha

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Bipolar disorder is a multifactorial illness with uncertain aetiology. Knowledge of potential risk factors enables clinicians to identify patients who are more likely to develop bipolar disorder, which directs further investigation, follow up and caution when prescribing. Ideally, identifying directly causative factors for bipolar disorder would enable intervention on an individual or population level to prevent the development of the illness, and improve outcomes through earlier treatment. This article reviews the epidemiology of bipolar disorder, along with putative demographic, genetic and environmental risk factors, while assessing the strength of these associations and to what extent they might be said to be 'causative'. While numerous genetic and environmental risk factors have been identified, the attributable risk of individual factors is often small, and most are not specific to bipolar disorder but are associated with several mental illnesses. Therefore, while some genetic and environmental factors have strong evidence supporting their association with bipolar disorder, fewer have sufficient evidence to establish causality. There is increasing interest in the role of specific gene-environment interactions, as well as the mechanisms by which risk factors interact to lead to bipolar disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-269
Number of pages19
JournalTherapeutic advances in psychopharmacology
Issue number9
Early online date26 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


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