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Borderline Personality Disorder Fast Facts

Studies have shown that BPD affects men and women at similar rates. However, reports from clinical studies have shown that women are diagnosed with BPD at a much greater rate than men.

It’s possible that BPD in men is often misdiagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, or some other mental illness.

BPD may be present in as many as 11% of psychiatric patients in outpatient treatment. Among patients receiving inpatient treatment, the rate of BPD may be as high as 20%.

At any given time, about 1.6% of the United States population suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Approximately 5.9% of Americans will be affected by BPD in their lifetimes.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an illness that is characterized by marked difficulty in maintaining a stable emotional state. Sufferers experience atypically wide swings in their moods, their feelings about themselves and others, and in their behavior. These swings can be extreme and can last for up to days at a time.

The consequences of BPD include difficulties in maintaining stable relationships, engaging in impulsive or risky behavior, and self-harming behaviors.

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Many of the symptoms of BPD involve emotional instability, relationship conflict, and fluctuating self-image. Common symptoms include:

  • Fear of abandonment or betrayal by friends, family or loved ones. These fears can lead to behaviors meant to prevent abandonment.
  • Instability in the perception of relationships. Sufferers often fluctuate between thinking that a relationship is unrealistically ideal and thinking that the relationship is extremely negative.
  • Impulsive behavior, including excessive spending, risky sexual behavior, or physical risk-taking (e.g., reckless driving).
  • Self-harming behaviors. These behaviors can take the form of non-life-threatening self-harm or suicidal thoughts/attempts.
  • Negative mood swings, including depression, anxiety, or irritability.
  • Feelings of lethargy, emptiness, or boredom.
  • Intense anger. These angry episodes are often irrational, and they are often followed by periods of guilt or shame.
  • Episodes of “dissociation,” in which the sufferer feels as if they are disconnected from their body or outside reality, or paranoia. In severe cases, clinically diagnosable psychotic episodes (breaks from reality) are possible.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder

The exact cause of BPD has not yet been discovered. Several factors, however, seem to put an individual at an increased risk of BPD.

  • Family history and genetics. People who have a parent or sibling with BPD seem to be at an increased risk of having BPD themselves.
  • Brain physiology. Scientists have identified differences in the structure and function of the brains of people with BPD as compared to those without the disorder. The differences are primarily in the parts of the brain that control decision-making, judgment, and emotional responses. It is unclear, however, whether these brain differences cause the disorders, or whether the disorder causes changes in the sufferer’s brain.
  • External factors. Many people with BPD have encountered situations and events that may have had an influence on the development of BPD. These factors include physical, emotional or sexual abuse; unstable relationships; traumatic experiences; and abandonment or neglect.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Borderline Personality Disorder Hereditary?

Most scientists agree that there is some component of heritability for BPD. The disorder appears to run in families, and those with a close relative who has the disorder appear to have an increased risk of having the disorder themselves. However, studies have disagreed about the significance of the risk, putting the heritability rate anywhere between 32% and 72%. A recent large-scale study has suggested that the actual rate of inheritance is somewhere in the middle, in the vicinity of 50%.

Scientists have not yet been able to identify a specific genetic component that increases the risk of BPD. It is likely that inherited genes may increase an individual’s susceptibility to BPD, but that the actual development of the disorder is the result of external triggering circumstances.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Borderline Personality Disorder Detected?

Borderline personality disorder most often first shows up in young adulthood, but it may first appear in childhood, too. Warning signs of BPD include:

  • Fear of being alone
  • Angry outbursts that are out of proportion to the trigger
  • Unstable or rapidly shifting relationships
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Sudden changes in opinions or attitudes
  • Changes in sexual identity
  • Difficulties at work or school
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts

Don’t hesitate to seek treatment for yourself or a loved one if any of these signs interfere with daily functioning or if the danger of self-harm is imminent.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

There is no laboratory test or medical exam that can diagnose BPD. Even the presence of some of the symptoms of the disorder is often not enough to make a definitive diagnosis. The signs of BPD are often similar to those of other mental illnesses, and many of those illnesses commonly occur in conjunction with BPD.

The diagnostic process is usually conducted by a mental health practitioner who has experience in identifying and diagnosing BPD. The process includes psychological assessments, medical histories, and interviews with the sufferer and, often, family members or loved ones.

PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Borderline Personality Disorder Treated?

There is no definitive cure for BPD, and there are no medications that are commonly used to treat the core disorder itself. The most common course of treatment involves psychotherapy, with medications sometimes used to treat other mental disorders that the patient suffers from.

Therapies

Several different types of psychotherapy have proven to be effective at managing the effects of BPD. Different therapies may be more or less effective for different individuals, and the most effective therapy may change over time, even in individual cases.

Commonly used therapeutic approaches include:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This type of therapy was developed specifically to treat BPD. It uses one-on-one and group therapy sessions to help the patient develop skills for managing emotions, stress, and relationships.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy focuses on teaching the patient to recognize inaccurate perceptions about themselves and others and to develop strategies for dealing with these misperceptions when they occur.
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT). This type of therapy helps the patient to develop a perspective that differs from the atypical, harmful one. The therapy also helps the patient to build the ability to think before reacting to an emotional trigger.
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP) or psychodynamic psychotherapy. This type of therapy uses the relationship between the patient and the therapist as a model for other outside relationships. It focuses on building skills that can be transferred to other relationships.

Medications

Medications are usually not used to treat BPD itself. However, medications may be used to treat symptoms such as depression, anxiety, anger, psychosis, or impulsivity. Classes of drugs used to treat these symptoms include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How does Borderline Personality Progress?

Borderline personality disorder most often appears in adolescence or early adulthood, when sufferers are in their 20s. Most cases of BPD, however, get better over time, with nearly all sufferers experiencing a remission of symptoms within a decade or two after being diagnosed. Some symptoms (such as impulsive behavior) may be more likely to disappear than others.

Some researchers have suggested, also, that the diminishment of unstable relationships over time might be due to the sufferer giving up on relationships rather than learning how to maintain healthy ones.

While BPD is active, it can have significant effects on the sufferer’s life, including:

  • Lack of success at work or school
  • Legal problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Abusive relationships
  • Divorce
  • Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies
  • Risky behaviors that can cause injury or death
  • Suicide risk

BPD is also often coincident with other mental disorders that carry their own risks. These disorders include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Alcoholism or substance abuse

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Borderline Personality Disorder Prevented?

There may be no way to prevent borderline personality disorder from developing, but there is evidence that early intervention can successfully prevent the disorder from having its most severe consequences down the road. However, the disorder is usually not diagnosed until young adulthood at the earliest, after its effects are already disrupting the sufferer’s life in significant ways. Furthermore, many sufferers don’t have access to expensive therapies that can help them cope with the disorder.

Some researchers are encouraging mental health practitioners and caregivers to be alert to the warning signs of BPD in children and adolescents. These researchers emphasize that the disorder can be diagnosed in children and that early therapeutic intervention can have a significant positive impact.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Borderline Personality Caregiver Tips

Because borderline personality disorder is characterized by unstable, conflict-filled relationships, dealing with your loved one’s disorder can be especially difficult. Caregivers should learn all they can about the disorder so that they can understand how it affects their loved one. Education is the best defense against the relationship stresses that BPD always causes.

As you help your loved one cope with the disorder, keep these tips in mind:

  • Watch for warning signs and encourage treatment if you suspect that BPD might be the problem. Look for impulsive behavior, unstable relationships, fluctuating self-image, and atypical reactions to stress.
  • Don’t get wrapped up in the relationship drama. Your loved one will probably think you’re the greatest one moment and that you’re their worst enemy the next. Understand that this kind of instability is part of the disorder, and try to keep yourself emotionally above the turmoil.
  • Be calm, supportive, positive, and honest in your responses to your loved one’s behavior.
  • Be prepared to get involved with the treatment plan yourself. Many practitioners believe that it’s important for family and loved ones to be involved in therapy, too. By being part of the treatment process, loved ones can learn how to best support the sufferer and how to avoid reactions that might make the disorder’s symptoms worse.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Borderline Personality Brain Science

Scientists have been able to identify some real differences in the brains of people with borderline personality disorder compared to the brains of people who don’t have the disorder. The differences lie both in how the brain functions, and in how certain chemicals are processed within the brain.

  • Functional differences. Scientists have determined that in the brains of people with BPD, the parts of the brain that control emotion do not communicate effectively with the parts of the brain that control decision-making. These parts of the brain include the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the medial temporal lobes. The result of this miscommunication can be subtle but fundamental. Studies have shown, for example, that BPD patients often misidentify facial expressions, attributing negative emotions to neutral expressions.
  • Chemical differences. Studies have shown that BPD sufferers may have problems processing or producing certain brain chemicals, such as the hormone oxytocin and the neurotransmitter serotonin. These chemicals are vital contributors to functions such as mood regulation, emotional responses, and social bonding.

Research is ongoing into these and other differences, and scientists are trying to understand the role the differences play in the development of the disorder.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Borderline Personality Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Borderline Personality Disorder.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Borderline Personality Disorder, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Borderline Personality Disorder and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as The Effect of Oxytocin Administration on Interpersonal Cooperation in Borderline Personality Disorder Patients and Healthy Adults, An 18-Month Psychotherapy of Borderline Personality Disorderand Ketamine in Borderline Personality Disorder.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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