01 February 2017

Brain scans may shed light on bipolar suicide

Almost 50% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide, and up to 20% succeed, a new study finds.


Among teens and young adults with bipolar disorder, researchers have linked brain differences to an increased suicide risk.

Regulating the circuitry

About half of people with bipolar disorder – marked by extreme mood swings – attempt suicide, and as many as one in five dies by suicide, the study authors said.

Read: Bipolar disorder more complex than previously believed

For the new study, teens and young adults with bipolar disorder underwent brain scans. Compared with those who had not attempted suicide, those who had attempted suicide had slightly less volume and activity in areas of the brain that regulate emotion and impulses, and in the white matter that connects those areas.

"The findings suggest that the frontal cortex is not working as well as it should to regulate the circuitry," said study senior author Dr Hilary Blumberg.

"That can lead to more extreme emotional pain, difficulties in generating alternate solutions to suicide and greater likelihood of acting on suicidal impulses," she said.

Read: Bipolar kids more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol

Blumberg is a professor of psychiatric neuroscience, psychiatry, radiology and biomedical imaging at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

"Suicide is a leading cause of death of adolescents and young adults, and we can't move on this issue fast enough," she said in a university news release. "The identification of brain circuits involved in risk for suicide can lead to new ways to identify who is most at risk and, hopefully, prevent suicides."

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.


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