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Bipolar Disorder More Common in Teens Than Thought

Up to 20 percent with psychiatric problems may have the condition, study suggests

FRIDAY, Dec. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Bipolar disorder is more common than expected among teens hospitalized for psychiatric problems.

Doctors at Bradley Hospital in Providence, R.I., found that up to 20 percent of adolescents in psychiatric units may have the condition, also known as manic depression.

The disorder is characterized by dramatic mood swings -- extreme elation to irritability, sadness and hopelessness, then back again.

"There are often periods of normal mood in between, but there is always accompanying serious impairment in functions," said study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Hunt, a child psychiatrist at the hospital and an assistant professor at Brown Medical School.

The report appears in the December issue of the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

The disorder was considered to be rare in children and adolescents, but the authors say that screening patients for bipolar disorder immediately after they are admitted to a psychiatric unit can lead to better diagnosis and treatment. Frequently, patients are admitted and treated for symptoms of depression, but the medication can have an adverse effect for someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, the authors said.

The disorder can be difficult to diagnose because some of the symptoms can also be seen as regular traits in children, among them impulsivity, irritability and hyperactivity.

The researchers used a two-pronged approach to diagnose 391 admissions to the inpatient unit at Bradley. They took medical histories of the patients and their families, along with K-SADS, the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia, a series of questions that lead to a mania rating. In this way, they determined that about 20 percent were manic-depressive.

Previously, the common rate was thought to be about 1 percent.

The authors also found that bipolar patients were more suicidal and aggressive, and needed higher levels of care than patients with depression.

More information

The National Institute of Mental Health has more about bipolar disorder.

SOURCE: Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center, news release, Dec. 28, 2005
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