Bipolar disorder in children

Bipolar disorder can occur in children and adolescents. It has been investigated by federally funded teams in children as young as age 6. Although once regarded as rare, many patients analyzed have demonstrated that around 7% of children seen at psychiatric facilities have bipolar disorder according to research statistics.             ­

Symptoms of bipolar disorder in children

One of the toughest challenges with bipolar disorder in children has been to differentiate children with mania from those who are suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What makes this tough is the fact that both groups present with irritability, hyperactivity, and distractibility. These symptoms are not that helpful for diagnosis because they occur in both disorders. Symptoms such as elated mood, grandiose behaviors, a flight of ideas, decreased need for sleep and hypersexuality occur mainly in mania and are rare in ADHD.

Elated Children

Elated children may laugh hysterically and act infectiously happy without any reason at home, school or other places. If someone who did not know the child well and saw this behavior, they would think the child was in their own world. Parents and teachers widely regard this sort of behavior as clown-like.

Grandiose Behavior

Grandiose behavior occurs when children act as if the rules do not apply to them. For instance, they believe that they are a superhero so that they can tell the teacher what to teach and show superiority over their classmates. In some cases, children with grandiose behavior will call the school principal and complain about teachers they do not like.

Flight of Ideas

Flight of ideas occurs when children start jumping from one topic to another rapidly. Children like this can manifest decreased requirement for sleep (less than five solid hours) and show no sign of tiredness the next day. They may stay up playing computer games or rearranging furniture.

Hypersexuality and Depressed Cycles

Hypersexuality can arise in children with mania without any sign of physical or sexual abuse. These children act flirtatious beyond their years and may even try to touch the private areas of adults and use explicit sexual language. It is common for children with bipolar disorder to have a number of cycles during the day from giddy, silly highs to morose, gloomy suicidal depressions. As there is a danger of suicide, it is quite important that the caregiver be able to identify these depressed cycles.

Treatments of bipolar disorder in children

There are a number of studies on how to best treat children. Until more data is available, health care providers are left using their best skills and experience to manage the illness using medications that have been effective in adults. There are three main kinds of bipolar disorder drugs: Lithium, anticonvulsants and atypical neuroleptics.

Side Effects

Side effects of the medications are particularly troublesome for children. For example, atypical neuroleptics (except aripiprazole) are linked with marked weight gain in children. Scientists are working to come up with specific genetic tests that will which children will gain weight on these medications; at this point, it is trial and error. The dangers of additional weight gain from medication can lead to glucose issues that may result in diabetes and enhanced blood lipids that may worsen heart and stroke problems later in life.

Medications can lead to an irreversible illness known as tardive dyskinesia. This is a continuous movement of the tongue in and out of the mouth and a wide array of other movement abnormalities. Lithium has been on the market for so many years and is the only medication that has been shown to be effective against future episodes of mania, depression and completed suicides. Children who take lithium for a long period of time require a thyroid supplement and in some cases develop serious kidney disease.

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