More than 2 million Americans have manic-depressive illness. It is extremely distressing and disruptive to their lives.

Like any serious illness, bipolar disorder also creates problems for spouses, family members, friends, and employers.

Family members of people with bipolar disorder often have to cope with serious behavioral problems (such as wild spending sprees) and the lasting consequences of these behaviors.

Bipolar disorder tends to run in families, and there is strong evidence that it is inherited. However, despite ongoing research efforts, a specific genetic defect associated with the disease has not yet been identified.

Bipolar illness has been diagnosed in children under age 12, although it is not common in this age bracket. The symptoms can be confused with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, so careful diagnosis is necessary.