Will My Child Inherit My Bipolar Disorder?

Could a child inherit your bipolar disorder?
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If you have bipolar disorder and are considering having children, one of the questions you are probably asking yourself is whether you would pass your bipolar disorder on to a child. You've probably heard that bipolar disorder can be inherited. Genetic studies have borne this out, but few have published statistics. Most sources simply say "bipolar disorder is highly inheritable" and leave it at that.

Here are some statistics from a 2003 study:

  • A child of one parent with bipolar disorder and one without has a 15 to 30% chance of having BP.
  • If both parents have bipolar disorder, there's a 50 to 75% chance that a child of theirs will, too.
  • If you already have one child with BP, there is a 15 to 25% chance that another of your children will also have it.
  • If one identical twin has BP, there's about an 85% chance that the other one will as well.

All these chances are much higher than for children born to parents without a history of bipolar disorder. It is also possible that your child may be at a somewhat greater risk of developing certain other psychiatric disorders.

Still, while your risk of having a child who develops a mental disorder is higher than if you or the child's other parent didn't have bipolar disorder, it isn't a guarantee that this will happen. And of course, nothing says that having a child with a mental disorder -- whether it appears in childhood or later in life -- won't still be a wonderful, fulfilling experience.


McGuffin, P., et al. The heritability of bipolar affective disorder and the genetic relationship to unipolar depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 May;60(5):497-502. 12 Sept 2009.

"Genetics and Major Psychiatric Disorder: Empiric Risks." National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics. April 2004. 15 Sept 2009. (Unavailable)

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