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Bipolar and Schizophrenia Appear to Be Genetically Linked

Persuasive evidence of the same genetic cause for bipolar and schizophrenia was published this month in Lancet (January 16, 2009). The study, conducted by medical scientists in the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Karolinska Institutet, a Swedish university medical center, included two million families. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests a link between the issues, but the researchers claim this study shows positive proof, according to a press release from Karolinska Institutet.

Karolinska’s researchers looked at records of 35,985 people with schizophrenia, 40,487 people with bipolar, and their relatives. Both genetic and environmental factors were considered, and they found that genes played a remarkably larger part in determining incidence of both issues than did environmental factors. They concluded that 1) people with a relative who has schizophrenia or bipolar are at greater risk of developing one of the issues; 2) people with a relative who has one of the issues are likely to have another relative with either one of the issues, and 3) people with schizophrenia are more likely to develop bipolar than others. The study found that sisters and brothers of people with either issue were nine times more likely to develop bipolar or schizophrenia.

This news is important to researchers who, for decades, have studied the issues independent of each other. Bipolar is classified as a mood disorder and schizophrenia as a psychotic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the most commonly used diagnostic manual in North America. This information is also likely to be of interest to genetics counselors and families in which one or more members have or had either or both of issues.

© Copyright 2009 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • charlotte

    January 26th, 2009 at 1:58 AM

    I can’t believe that we are 9 times more likely to have this disease if it runs in the family… The studies are alarming.

  • maggie

    January 26th, 2009 at 2:00 AM

    I often thought that bipolar and schizophrenia were almost alike. It is still unclear to me how much of a mood swing is involved with Bipolar. Is it everyday mood swings or are the mood swings very dramatic

  • Cara Beth

    January 26th, 2009 at 4:33 AM

    This is an interesting article because I have often been curious about these two illnesses. What makes me curious now is whether or not someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder will be more likely to develop schizophrenia later down the road? Or could diagnosis and medications taken for bipolar disorder help to ward off the onset of schizophrenia in certain patients?

  • Brit

    January 26th, 2009 at 8:11 AM

    Cara Beth, I’m with you, I would love to know more about these diseases as well and what the main symptoms are… I thought the two went hand in hand, but I could be wrong.

  • runninfast

    January 27th, 2009 at 5:26 AM

    I had a friend who at the tender age of 19 was diagnosed with schizophrenia and this was just a heartbreak for our entire community. This disease literally tore her family apart because none of them had the care and support that they needed to fight through it. I like to hear about more research being done in this field because this terrible disease took away one of my dearest friends and I would not like to see that happen to anyone else.

  • Dave

    January 28th, 2009 at 1:48 AM

    Its sad that there is a genetic connection. All of us have wide knowledge on handling physical illnesses. Very few of us go beyond sympathising or shutting ourselves to the problems of people with mental illnesses. Most of us dont know our neighbours least of all help out. This occurred to me after my neighbour’s son who suffered from schizophrenia killed himself. We were all at home watching a movie on our home theater and didnt hear the boy’s screams. I think everyone should be educated about mental disorders as a society and as a country. It helps to know how we can be of help.

  • Julia

    January 28th, 2009 at 5:27 AM

    My father was bipolar but never exhibited any signs of schizophrenia so I would not want people to necessarily assume that these two illnesses are always interrelated.

  • Elliott

    January 29th, 2009 at 5:23 AM

    Dave that is such a sad story. I think that too many times we try to hide those things which we all deem as unpleasant and then look what happens. A very sad situation like this occurs that could have possibly been prevented. We look down on those or even worse ignore those with mental illness, as if it is a plague that we oursleves might could catch if we exhibit too much sympathy and concern. I hope that reading blogs and articles such as these here will open up society’s eyes to the pain that is often associated with mental illness and the myriad of things that we can do to help those who suffer and their family members to beat the odds and to make a difference in a positive manner for them.

  • Sita

    January 30th, 2009 at 11:23 PM

    My son attends a school which has a license to admit and educate children with dyslexia or ADHD. The school does not have a counsellor on campus. His classmate is a boy with ADHD and mild schizophrenia which makes him dangerously violent at times. We are all broad minded people who believe that all children must be given equal opportunities. We are all seriously worried as our normal children dont enjoy schooling any more for fear of being stalked and beaten up by this boy. How do we bring the school to doing something about our predicament?

  • Juanita

    January 30th, 2009 at 11:24 PM

    A very lucid and informative article.

  • Kayla

    January 31st, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    This article makes me curious as to whether or not the treatments and medications that are used to help people with these illnesses resemble one another in make up because of the genetic similarities of the disease. It seesm that if you treat one with a specific drug then it may could help with the other. From my own reading though it seems that these are two of the toughest mental illnesses to treat because it is difficult to always be able to convince those who suffer from them of the need to take their mehdications on a daily and consistent basis.

  • Jolyn

    January 31st, 2009 at 12:36 PM

    Sita, This is a difficult situation for your children, you as parents, the boy and his parents and the school system. I’m no expert on schools, but my inclination would be to check the school’s parent grievance procedures — and follow them carefully. Then, ask all of the parents to be calm and recognize that this will take a little time. The school is likely to be required by law or the system to serve this boy, but there may be better alternatives. Stick to your message that you’re simply asking that your children be schooled in an environment that feels safe to them, as well as ensuring an education to the boy with ADHD and schizophrenia. In other words, strive for a win-win situation for everyone and follow all of the grievance procedures carefully. You’ll probably get this resolved soonest if all the parents stay non-accusatory, see the school’s and the boy and his parents’ situations too, and follow the procedures. I would contact an attorney only if there’s no satisfactory solution after all of the procedures have been exhausted Best to you.

  • Jolyn

    January 31st, 2009 at 6:14 PM

    Although they are genetically linked, the symptoms and treatments are not all the same. Medications often don’t rid people with either of these of all symptoms and often have some unpleasant side effects too — even when the individul takes the medication consistently. There are other reasons people with these illnesses sometimes don’t want to take the medications too; expense, not realizing they’re ill, forgetting to take them, the process of finding the right one(s) and other reasons. Often, the medications do work well enough to help the person function better, though. The hope of researchers and others who care is that, somehow and some day, there will be a cure, and genetics currently appears to be one promising direction. Still, we may well be a long way from a cure, as I understand it.

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