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What are the warning signs of bipolar disorder in children and teens?

With bipolar disorder, there are both manic symptoms and depressive symptoms. If your child or teenager has five or more symptoms that persist for at least a week, it is important to seek professional help. With medications and/or psychotherapy, mental health professionals can help stabilize your child's moods. Treatment can also diminish or eliminate the depressed or manic thoughts and behaviors.

Manic symptoms include:

  • Severe changes in mood, either extremely irritable or overly silly and elated
  • Overly-inflated self-esteem, grandiosity
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased need for sleep, ability to go with very little or no sleep for days without tiring
  • Increased talking, talks too much, too fast; changes topics too quickly; cannot be interrupted
  • Distractibility, attention moves constantly from one thing to the next
  • Hypersexuality, increased sexual thoughts, feelings, or behaviors; use of explicit sexual language
  • Increased goal-directed activity or physical agitation
  • Disregard of risk, excessive involvement in risky behaviors or activities

Depressive symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite or body weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Physical agitation or slowing
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How is ADHD different from bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is primarily a mood disorder. ADHD affects attention and behavior; it causes symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While ADHD is chronic, bipolar disorder is usually episodic, with periods of normal mood interspersed with depression, mania, or hypomania.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

Doctors usually treat bipolar disorder in young people the same way they treat it in adults. They use medications called mood stabilizers, which include anticonvulsants such as Depakote (valproate), Lamicta (lamotrigine), Tegretol (carbamazepine), Trileptal (oxcarbazepine), and lithium. Children are just as likely as adults to be treated with antipsychotic drugs, usually, the newer "atypical" antipsychotics. Sometimes, children receive a combination of drugs such as a mood stabilizer and an antidepressant.

How is ADHD treated?

Treatment for ADHD includes medications and/or behavioral therapy. ADHD medications can be psychostimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin,and Vyvanse, or nonstimulant medications such as Intuniv (guanfacine) or Strattera (atomoxetine). Antidepressants, such as Wellbutrin (bupropion), are also used.

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