The likelihood of recurrence in bipolar affective disorder: the importance of episode recency

J Affect Disord. 1995 Mar 14;33(3):201-6. doi: 10.1016/0165-0327(94)00091-m.


These analyses used a high-intensity follow-up of of patients with bipolar affective disorder to describe the immediate and long-term risks for recurrence and the importance of sustained recovery to those risks. At the baseline evaluation, all patients were in episodes of Research Diagnostic Criteria major depressive disorder, mania or schizoaffective disorder (excluding the mainly schizophrenic subtype); those who were depressed at intake had a history of mania or schizoaffective mania. Raters re-evaluated these patients at 6-month intervals for 5 years and annually for the remainder of a 10-year follow-up. The following report describes relapse risks for the 186 patients observed to recover from their index episodes. Survival analyses quantified the likelihood of relapse over time, beginning after symptom-free periods of 4 months and 1, 2 and 3 years. Further survival analyses used treatment status as a censoring variable to estimate the eventual likelihood of recurrence among those who reported sustained compliance with lithium prophylaxis; the prophylaxis group remained under observation until they relapsed, were lost to follow-up or ceased taking lithium. Progressively longer symptom-free periods were clearly associated with lower relapse risks over the subsequent 4 years. Thereafter, however, this effect dissipitated. 7 years after recovery, the cumulative likelihood of recurrence was four in five for all bipolar patients and two in three for those whose index episode had been followed by at least 3 years without symptoms. Even with sustained lithium prophylaxis, the likelihood of at least one recurrence exceeded 70% within 5 years of recovery.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Lithium / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance / psychology
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / drug therapy
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Recurrence


  • Lithium