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J Affect Disord. 2003 Jan;73(1-2):133-46.

Toward a re-definition of subthreshold bipolarity: epidemiology and proposed criteria for bipolar-II, minor bipolar disorders and hypomania.

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Zurich University Psychiatric Hospital, Lenggstrasse 31, P O Box 68, CH-8029, Zurich, Switzerland.



The boundaries of bipolarity have been expanding over the past decade. Using a well characterized epidemiologic cohort, in this paper our objectives were: (1). to test the diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV hypomania, (2). to develop and validate criteria for the definition of softer expressions of bipolar-II (BP-II) disorder and hypomania, (3). to demonstrate the prevalence, clinical validity and comorbidity of the entire soft bipolar spectrum.


Data on the continuum from normal to pathological mood and overactivity, collected from a 20-year prospective community cohort study of young adults, were used. Clinical validity was analysed by family history, course and clinical characteristics, including the association with depression and substance abuse.


(1). Just as euphoria and irritability, symptoms of overactivity should be included in the stem criterion of hypomania; episode length should probably not be a criterion for defining hypomania as long as three of seven signs and symptoms are present, and a change in functioning should remain obligatory for a rigorous diagnosis. (2). Below that threshold, 'hypomanic symptoms only' associated with major or mild depression are important indicators of bipolarity. (3). A broad definition of bipolar-II disorder gives a cumulative prevalence rate of 10.9%, compared to 11.4% for broadly defined major depression. A special group of minor bipolar disorder (prevalence 9.4%) was identified, of whom 2.0% were cyclothymic; pure hypomania occurred in 3.3%. The total prevalence of the soft bipolar spectrum was 23.7%, comparable to that (24.6%) for the entire depressive spectrum (including dysthymia, minor and recurrent brief depression).


A national cohort with a larger number of subjects is needed to verify the numerical composition of the softest bipolar subgroups proposed herein.


The diagnostic criteria of hypomania need revision. On the basis of its demonstrated clinical validity, a broader concept of soft bipolarity is proposed, of which nearly 11% constitutes the spectrum of bipolar disorders proper, and another 13% probably represent the softest expression of bipolarity intermediate between bipolar disorder and normality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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