Objective: Our aim was to obtain a comprehensive view of differences between bipolar disorder (BD) patients with onset at early versus adult age in a representative study cohort.
Methods: In the Jorvi Bipolar Study (JoBS), 1,630 psychiatric in- and outpatients were systematically screened for BD using the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ). A total of 191 bipolar I and II patients with a current DSM-IV episode were interviewed to obtain information about age at onset of mood symptoms, clinical course, treatment, comorbidity, and functional status. The patients were classified as either early onset (<18 years) or adult onset.
Results: One-third of subjects with BD (58/191, 30%) had early onset. This was associated with female gender, more lifetime psychotic symptoms, greater overall comorbidity, and a greater length of time from first episode to treatment.
Conclusions: Although BD patients with early age at onset have more severe clinical features and illness course, the delays from first episode to treatment and to correct diagnosis are longer than for those with adult onset disorder. To reduce morbidity rates related to the most severe forms of BD, the recognition and diagnosis of BD during adolescence needs to be improved.