Bipolar disorder doesn’t appear to be caused by one single factor. Instead, several factors come together to create a risk for bipolar disorder and trigger the mood swing cycle. These are some of the most common factors:

The Genetic Factor

Bipolar disorder appears to be at least partially hereditary. People with a family history of bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of developing the disorder themselves. Bipolar disorder shows a stronger genetic link than many other emotional disorders. In twin studies, the identical twin sibling of someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder also had the disorder 80% of the time, a much higher rate than with other emotional disorders. Still, if the link were purely genetic, the identical twin of someone with bipolar disorder would also be diagnosed 100% of the time.

There appears to be no one single gene that causes bipolar disorder. Instead, several different genes come together to create a risk for bipolar disorder.

The Chemical Imbalance

Neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers produced in the brain, show a definite link to mood disorders. The direct link between neurotransmitter levels and bipolar disorder are not exactly known, and several different chemical imbalancescould be causing trouble.

It is possible that an unusually higher or lower level of a specific neurotransmitter such as serotoninnorepinephrine ordopamine is the cause. It is also believed that it may be more about the proportions of neurotransmitters in relation to each other. Other research has shown that it may have more to do with the sensitivity of the neurotransmitter receptor sites on the cells, meaning that there are plenty of available neurotransmitters but they’re not getting where they need to go.

Stressful Life Events

Stressful life events do not in and of themselves cause bipolar disorder. Instead, they trigger the cycle of mood swings in a person who is predisposed to bipolar disorder. A person with a genetic predisposition and a chemical imbalance may never experience the symptoms of bipolar disorder unless some life event—losing a job, abuse, the end of a relationship, failing a test, or even a death in the family—triggers the first mood swing. Once the disease is triggered, though, it doesn’t need continuing stressful life events to progress. The chemical imbalances as well as any unhealthy emotional coping mechanisms keep the bipolar disorder active.

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