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September 4, 2005

Accurate Screening of Bipolar Disorder

The British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) has published an editorial paper highlighting the vital role GPs play in distinguishing between unipolar and bipolar disorder and treating it accordingly.

Authors from the University of Melbourne, say there is increasing evidence that treating bipolar patients with unipolar therapy may be harmful to patients.

According to the authors, new research suggests that up to 30 per cent of patients presenting with depression in primary care are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. GPs are often the first clinicians to screen for bipolar disorder and manage its initial treatment. However, they say patients presenting with bipolar may be diagnosed with unipolar depression and as a result treated inaccurately, thereby potentially exacerbating the illness.

The authors conclude that GPs play a pivotal role in detecting, managing and, where necessary, appropriately referring patients with bipolar disorder. This role, they believe, is essential to the management of this highly prevalent and disabling, yet treatable, condition.

Dr Michael Berk, lead author and Professor of Psychiatry at the Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, University of Melbourne, said: “It is essential to accurately differentiate bipolar from unipolar depression as treatments are very different. Optimal outcomes are dependent on appropriate therapy. The key is to screen both for a past history of mania or hypomania and for the clinical signature of bipolar depression.”


Berk M, Dodd S, Berk L, Opie J. “Diagnosis and management of patients with bipolar disorder in primary care” BJGP September 2005; 55: 662-663.

The BJGP is published monthly and distributed to over 22,000 RCGP members, associates, and subscribers in more than 40 countries worldwide. Its primary purpose is to publish first-rate, peer reviewed research papers on topics relevant to primary care.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom solely for GPs. It aims to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and to act as the “voice” of GPs on issues concerned with education, training, research, and clinical standards. Founded in 1952, the RCGP has over 22,500 members who are committed to improving patient care, developing their own skills and promoting general practice as a discipline.


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