Bipolar disorder in kids focus of several studies presented at international meeting

June 14, 2001

PITTSBURGH, June 14 - Nearly one out of 100 children and teenagers worldwide have bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by swings between mania, or euphoric mood, and depression. Despite the number of young people affected, doctors still have limited resources when it comes to helping them because very few long-term studies to determine safe and effective treatments have been performed.

The few researchers who have focused on such studies presented new findings today at the Fourth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder in Pittsburgh, as well as highlighted areas where more work needs to be done.

While the disorder is better understood in adults, research into bipolar disorder in children and adolescents has been gaining ground. Some of the studies presented today suggest adolescents are more prone to a form known as "rapid cycling," where swings from mania to depression occur faster and more frequently than the standard form; children with bipolar disorder continue to have difficulties in relationships and school, even when treatment is successful; and bipolar disorder in adolescents is often accompanied by attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders or conduct disorders, which complicates diagnosis and treatment.

Highlights of the presentations include:

Doctors should be careful in prescribing stimulants and antidepressants to hyperactive children, according to Catrien G. Reichart, M.D., of Academisch Ziekenhuis Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Dr. Reichart and colleagues studied children in the United States and The Netherlands who had a parent with bipolar disorder. Their results show that the prevalence of bipolar disorder in these at-risk adolescents is much greater for American children (39 percent) than for Dutch children (4 percent). In The Netherlands there were very few cases of bipolar disorder found in children younger than 20, while in the U.S., children younger than 12 had been diagnosed.

The difference, according to Dr. Reichart, may be due to the use of stimulants and antidepressants to treat American children with hyperactivity, while doctors in The Netherlands rely more on psychosocial approaches.
NOTE TO EDITORS: To schedule interviews or for more information to attend the conference, please contact Craig Dunhoff at the UPMC News Bureau, (412) 624-2607.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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