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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • gender;
  • sex;
  • treatment;
  • women

Objective: Recent research has emphasized important gender differences in the epidemiology, course, comorbidity and treatment of bipolar disorder. This article aims to provide an overview of these important findings in order to assist the clinician in treating women with bipolar disorder. Complex issues regarding the treatment of bipolar disorder during pregnancy and the post-partum period are discussed.

Method: A literature review was undertaken using Medline (1966–current), PsychInfo and PubMed databases. Search terms used were gender, sex, women, bipolar disorder, suicide, epidemiology, rapid cycling, mixed episode, treatment, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, pregnancy, post-partum, menopause, lactation and breast-feeding.

Results: The lifetime prevalence of bipolar I disorder is equal in men and women; however, bipolar II appears to be more common in women. Gender differences have been reported in the phenomenology, course and outcome of this condition. Some comorbid disorders, such as thyroid disease and anxiety disorders have more relevance to women. Increasingly, sex differences in the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of medications used in bipolar disorder are being reported.

Conclusions: There is increasing evidence for gender differences in a number of clinical features of bipolar disorder that have relevance to management. Although more studies are needed, it is important for clinicians to be aware of these issues to optimize treatment of women with this condition.