The concept of prevention is not new to psychiatry and has long been recognized in general medicine. Recent evidence has highlighted that early pharmacological and psychosocial treatment dramatically ameliorates poor prognosis and outcome for individuals with psychotic disorders, reducing conversion rates to full-blown illness and decreasing symptom severity. Nevertheless, despite the many recent advances in our thinking about early intervention, the need for early intervention in bipolar disorder (BPD) is an area that has been relatively neglected.
This review attempts to synthesize what is currently known about early intervention in BPD. We discuss methodological issues pertaining to this topic, review clinical studies that focus on high-risk subjects as well as first-episode patients and review findings from brain imaging studies in the offspring of individuals with BPD as well as in first-episode patients.
A companion paper discusses the cellular and molecular mechanisms of action of agents with neurotrophic and neuroplastic properties, with a particular emphasis on lithium and valproate.