Bipolar disorders (BD) belong to the most severe mental disorders, characterized by an early onset, predominantly recurrent/chronic course and poor psychosocial functioning. Many patients with BD experience substantial symptomatology months or even years before full BD manifestation. Adequate diagnosis and treatment is often delayed, which is associated with a worse outcome. This study aims to prospectively evaluate and improve early recognition and intervention strategies for persons at-risk for BD.
Methods and Results
Early-BipoLife is a prospective-longitudinal cohort study of 1419 participants (aged 15-35 years) with at least five waves of assessment over a period of at least 2 years (baseline, 6, 12, 18 and 24 months). A research consortium of ten university and teaching hospitals across Germany conducts this study. The following risk groups (RGs) were recruited: RG I: help-seeking youth & young adults consulting early recognition centres/facilities presenting ≥1 of the proposed risk factors for BD, RG II: in-/outpatients with unipolar depressive syndrome, and RG III: in-/ outpatients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The reference cohort was selected from the German representative IMAGEN cohort. Over the study period, the natural course of risk and resilience factors, early symptoms of BD and changes of symptom severity (including conversion to manifest BD) are observed. Psychometric properties of recently developed, structured instruments on potential risk factors for conversion to BD and subsyndromal symptomatology (Bipolar Prodrome Symptom Scale, Bipolar at-risk criteria, EPI bipolar ) and biomarkers that potentially improve prediction are investigated. Moreover, actual treatment recommendations are monitored in the participating specialized services and compared to recently postulated clinical categorization and treatment guidance in the field of early BD.
Findings from this study will contribute to an improved knowledge about the natural course of BD, from the onset of first noticeable symptoms (precursors) to fully developed BD, and about mechanisms of conversion from subthreshold to manifest BD. Moreover, these generated data will provide information for the development of evidence-based guidelines for early-targeted detection and preventive intervention for people at risk for BD.