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Original Research

Practical Clues to Early Recognition of Bipolar Disorder: A Primary Care Approach

Alan C. Swann, MD; Barbara Geller, MD; Robert M. Post, MD; Lori Altshuler, MD; Kiki D. Chang, MD; Melissa P. DelBello, MD; Christopher Reist, MD; Iver A. Juster, MD

Published: February 15, 2005

Article Abstract

Early treatment can favorably impact the course of bipolar disorder, a lifelong illness. Because bipolar disorder can masquerade as various mental and physical illnesses–primarily major depressive disorder–patients with this condition frequently go unrecognized for years. During this recognition lag, such patients may present to their primary care physician on multiple occasions. Accordingly, primary care physicians would benefit from knowing the “clues” to early recognition of the disorder, because early recognition and management can reduce disability, improve social and employment stability, and result in improved functional outcomes. This review describes 3 pathways to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder relevant to the primary care setting: detection of mania or hypomania, differential diagnosis of recurrent depressive episodes, and identification of interepisode disorder and its comorbidities. We summarize these pathways in terms of a practical tool that a primary care physician can use to trigger further evaluation or referral.

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