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Bipolar Spectrum Disorder may Be Under-recognized for Spectrum Disorder: Study

t respondents with bipolar disorder reported receiving treatment. Nearly everyone who had bipolar I or II (89 to 95 percent) received some type of treatment, while 69 percent of those with BD-NOS were getting treatment. Those with bipolar I or II were more commonly treated by psychiatric specialists, while those with BD-NOS were more commonly treated by general medical professionals.

However, not everyone received treatment considered optimal for bipolar disorder. Up to 97 percent of those who had some type of bipolar illness said they had coexisting psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders, and many were in treatment for those conditions rather than bipolar disorder. The researchers found that many were receiving medication treatment considered "inappropriate" for bipolar disorder, e.g., they were taking an antidepressant or other psychotropic medication in the absence of a mood stabilizing medication such as lithium, valproate, or carbamazepine. Only about 40 percent were receiving appropriate medication, considered a mood stabilizer, anticonvulsant or antipsychotic medication.

"Such a high rate of inappropriate medication use among people with bipolar spectrum disorder is a concern," said Dr. Merikangas. "It is potentially dangerous because use of an antidepressant without the benefit of a mood stabilizer may actually worsen the condition."

Merikangas and colleagues speculate that as people seek treatment for anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders, their doctors, especially if they are not mental health specialists, may not be detecting an underlying bipolar condition in their patients.

"Because bipolar spectrum disorder commonly coexists with other illnesses, it is likely underrecognized, and therefore, undertreated. We need better screening tools and procedures for identifying bipolar spectrum disorder, and work with clinicians to help them better spot t
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