• bipolar I and II disorders;
  • major depressive disorder onset age

Tondo L, Lepri B, Cruz N, Baldessarini RJ. Age at onset in 3014 Sardinian bipolar and major depressive disorder patients.

Objective:  To test if onset age in major affective illnesses is younger in bipolar disorder (BPD) than unipolar-major depressive disorder (UP-MDD), and is a useful measure.

Method:  We evaluated onset-age for DSM-IV-TR major illnesses in 3014 adults (18.5% BP-I, 12.5% BP-II, 69.0% UP-MDD; 64% women) at a mood-disorders center.

Results:  Median and interquartile range (IQR) onset-age ranked: BP-I = 24 (19–32) < BP-II = 29 (20–40) < UP-MDD = 32 (23–47) years (P < 0.0001), and has remained stable since the 1970s. In BP-I patients, onset was latest for hypomania, and depression presented earlier than in BP-II or UP-MDD cases. Factors associated with younger onset included: i) being unmarried, ii) more education, iii) BPD-diagnosis, iv) family-history, v) being employed, vi) ever-suicidal, vii) substance-abuse and viii) ever-hospitalized. Onset-age distinguished BP-I from UP-MDD depressive onsets with weak sensitivity and specificity.

Conclusion:  Onset age was younger among BPD than MDD patients, and very early onset may distinguish BPD vs. UP-MDD with depressive-onset.