Background: Impulsivity is a key component of the manic behavior of bipolar disorder and is reported to occur in bipolar patients as a stable characteristic, i.e. a trait. Nevertheless, impulsivity has not been widely studied in depressed bipolar patients. We assessed impulsivity in depressed and euthymic bipolar and unipolar patients and healthy controls. We hypothesized that bipolar subjects would have higher levels of trait impulsivity than the comparison groups. Methods: Twenty-four depressed bipolar, 24 depressed unipolar, 12 euthymic bipolar, and 10 euthymic unipolar patients, as well as 51 healthy subjects were evaluated with the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS). Analysis of covariance with age and sex as covariates was used to compare mean group differences. Results: Depressed bipolar, euthymic bipolar, and depressed unipolar patients did not differ, and showed greater impulsivity than healthy controls on all of the BIS scales. Euthymic unipolar patients scored higher than healthy controls only on motor impulsivity. Limitations: Higher number of past substance abusers in the bipolar groups, and no control for anxiety and personality disorders, as well as small sample sizes, limit the reach of this study. Conclusions: This study replicates prior findings of stable trait impulsivity in bipolar disorder patients, and extends them, confirming that this trait can be demonstrated in depressed patients, as well as manic and euthymic ones. Trait impulsivity may be the result of repeated mood episodes or be present prior to their onset, either way it would influence the clinical presentation of bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar disorder
- Unipolar disorder