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Bipolar Kids Suffer as Adults, Too

Study Shows Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder May Continue in Adulthood
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By Robynne Boyd
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 6, 2008 -- Children who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder can continue to suffer from the disease as they develop into young adults.

That's according to a new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, which was published in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study appears amid an ongoing controversy about diagnosing bipolar disorder in children. Much of the debate stems from an exponential surge in the number of children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some experts believe it is uncommon and becoming over-diagnosed, while others think just the opposite.

More articles on the condition were published in January 2008 than in the decade between 1986 and 1996, highlighting many researchers' hope of better understanding bipolar disorder.

Barbara Geller, MD, and her colleagues at Washington University followed a sample of children diagnosed with pediatric bipolar disorder into adulthood.

Beginning in 1995 to 1998, the researchers examined 115 children diagnosed with bipolar disorder with an average age of 11. At the beginning of the study and again during nine follow-up visits conducted over eight years, the children and their parents were interviewed separately about their symptoms, diagnoses, daily cycles of mania and depression, and interactions with others.

Ninety-four percent of the children completed the study, with 54 of these patients turning 18 or older at the end of the follow-up period.

During the eight-year follow-up, the researchers found that the children's first, second, and third episodes of mania included psychosis and daily cycling between mania and depression for long periods of time. Many of them recovered from these episodes, but about 73% of them relapsed.

After the follow-up period, Geller and her colleagues found that about 44% of those who had bipolar disorder as children and who turned 18 by the end of the study period continue to have manic episodes as young adults. Thirty-five percent of them had substance use disorders, a rate similar to those diagnosed with bipolar disorder as adults.

It is not yet understood why some patients did not experience manic episodes as they matured, since that particular data has not been studied, says Geller. However, she notes that it's unlikely to be due to a misdiagnosis.

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