Course of bipolar disorder in youths described for the first time

Children with bipolar disorder experience more enduring and rapidly changing symptoms of the disease than adults, according to a study that, for the first time, maps the clinical progression of each of the three sub-types of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents. The findings were published today by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. An estimated one out of 100 children and teenagers worldwide has bipolar disorder.

"Bipolar disorder is a serious illness that often emerges in adolescence, yet the majority of research into the disease has been done in adults. It became clear that we needed to define how bipolar disorder presents itself in this young, vulnerable population so we could take the next step of developing more age-specific treatments and therapies," said Boris Birmaher, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and principal investigator and lead author of the study. "We found that the symptoms of bipolar disorder were longer lasting and more variable in youths than in adults. To have such symptoms at a young age deprives these children of the opportunity to experience normal emotional, cognitive and social development, establishing the urgent need to diagnose and treat these patients early on."

The study assessed the symptoms of 263 children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 17 years who were diagnosed with bipolar spectrum disorders. Bipolar disorder, commonly called manic-depressive illness, is characterized by swings between depression, mania and periods with mixed symptoms. Bipolar spectrum disorders consist of three sub-types. Bipolar I (BP-I) is characterized by episodes of full-blown mania and major depression; bipolar II (BP-II) involves episodes of less severe mania, called hypomania, and major depression. The third sub-type, called bipolar not otherwise specified (BP-NOS), was defined in th


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