The comparative clinical phenotype and long term longitudinal episode course of bipolar I and II: A clinical spectrum or distinct disorders?

Lewis L. Judd, Hagop S. Akiskal, Pamela J. Schettler, William Coryell, Jack Maser, John A. Rice, David A. Solomon, Martin B. Keller

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289 Scopus citations


Background: The present analyses were designed to compare the clinical characteristics and long-term episode course of Bipolar-I and Bipolar-II patients in order to help clarify the relationship between these disorders and to test the bipolar spectrum hypothesis. Methods: The patient sample consisted of 135 definite RDC Bipolar-I (BP-I) and 71 definite RDC Bipolar-II patients who entered the NIMH Collaborative Depression Study (CDS) between 1978 and 1981; and were followed systematically for up to 20 years. Groups were compared on demographic and clinical characteristics at intake, and lifetime comorbidity of anxiety and substance use disorders. Subsets of patients were compared on the number and type of affective episodes and the duration of inter-episode well intervals observed during a 10-year period following their resolution of the intake affective episode. Results: BP-I and BP-II had similar demographic characteristics and ages of onset of their first affective episode. Both disorders had more lifetime comorbid substance abuse disorders than the general population. BP-II had a significantly higher lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in general, and social and simple phobias in particular, compared to BP-I. Intake episodes of BP-I were significantly more acutely severe. BP-II patietns had a substantially more chronic course, with significantly more major and minor depressive episodes and shorter inter-episode well intervals. BP-II patients were prescribed somatic treatment a substantially lower percentage of time during and between affective episodes. Limitations: BP-I patients with severe manic course are less likely to be retained in long-term follow-up, whereas the reverse might be true for BP-II patients who are significantly more prone to depression (i.e., patients with less inclination to depression and with good prognosis may have dropped out in greater proportions); this could increase the gap in long term course characteristics between the two samples. The greater chronicity of BP-II may be due, in part, to the fact that the patients were prescribed somatic treatments substantially less often both during and between affective episodes. Conclusions: The variety in severity of the affective episodes shows that bipolar disorders, similar to unipolar disorders, are expressed longitudinally during their course as a dimensional illness. The similarities of the clinical phenotypes of BP-I and BP-II, suggest that BP-I and BP-II are likely to exist in a disease spectrum. They are, however, sufficiently distinct in terms of long-term course (i.e., BP-I with more severe episodes, and BP-II more chronic with a predominantly depressive course), that they are best classified as two separate subtypes in the official classification systems. Crown

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-32
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2003


  • Anxiety disorer co-morbidity
  • Bipolar I
  • Bipolar II
  • Bipolar spectrum
  • Depression
  • Episode course


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