Study: Bipolar Disorder Harder on Youngsters
disorder is a more severe illness for children than adults during the first few
years after diagnosis, a landmark study suggested Monday.
research tracking a large group of bipolar children and teenagers over time
finds that 2½ years after diagnosis:
one-third of them still have not recovered.
• It takes
the rest about 17 months to recover.
• Four out of
five have at least one recurrence.
study, children experienced serious symptoms about two-thirds of the time, says
study leader Boris Birmaher of the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.
"They spend more time ill than adults with the same disease."
The study of
300 children ages 7 to 18 was released at the American Psychiatric Association
meeting in Atlanta.
A key hurdle
to healing is that children cycle through manic and depressed moods much more
rapidly than adults, which makes it tough to keep them on the right medication,
Birmaher says. Children averaged 16 cycles of mood changes a year; adults have
"Some kids do
well nonetheless," he says. "But it's a difficult disease to treat."
There are no
solid figures on how many children and teens have bipolar disease, or manic
depression. About 1% of adults, 2 million Americans, have the illness, says the
National Institute of Mental Health. It has a strong genetic link, but not all
cases are genetic. Less is known about the disease in children.
bleak portrait painted by Birmaher "unfortunately rings true for parents around
the country," says Lisa Pedersen, research chair of the Child and Adolescent
Bipolar Foundation, a non-profit education and support group (www.bpkids.org).
the problem could be understated; the study defines recovery as at least 8
consecutive weeks with minimal or no symptoms. "I don't know any parent who
would term 8 weeks a recovery," Pedersen says.
bipolar disorder often are misdiagnosed with ADHD or other behavior problems,
which delays proper treatment, Petersen adds. And stimulants or antidepressants
can worsen their symptoms.
On the other
hand, as awareness of the disease grows, more with ADHD are misdiagnosed as
bipolar, says Lori Altshuler of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, who
specializes in manic depression.
About 15% of
adults have the "rapid cycling" form of the disease more common in children,
"and that's the most difficult to treat in adults," she says. A few newer
anti-convulsive drugs are showing promise in adults, but they have not been
tested in kids, Altshuler says. The new evidence on children "creates a pressure
to find more drugs that work well in the rapid cycling disease."
By Marilyn Elias,
key signs that a child might have bipolar disorder:
A typical, severe mood swings from super-happy or silly to terribly sad.
Little need for sleep, perhaps only a few hours a night, but not tired the next
Sexual acting-out when there has been no sexual abuse or exposure to sexually
Expressing grandiose ideas, such as claiming to be a math genius.
Boris Birmaher, New Hope for Children and
Teens with Bipolar Disorder
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