Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens (cont.)
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What treatments are available for children and teens with bipolar disorder?
To date, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. However, treatment with medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or both may help people get better.
To treat children and teens with bipolar disorder, doctors often rely on information about treating adults. This is because there haven't been many studies on treating young people with the illness, although several have been started recently.
One large study with adults funded by NIMH is the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder. This study found that treating adults with medications and intensive psychotherapy for about nine months helped them get better. These adults got better faster and stayed well longer than adults treated with less intensive psychotherapy for six weeks. Combining medication treatment and psychotherapies may help young people with early-onset bipolar disorder as well. However, it's important for you to know that children sometimes respond differently to psychiatric medications than adults do.
Before starting medication, the doctor will want to determine your child's physical and mental health. This is called a "baseline" assessment. Your child will need regular follow-up visits to monitor treatment progress and side effects. Most children with bipolar disorder will also need long-term or even lifelong medication treatment. This is often the best way to manage symptoms and prevent relapse, or a return of symptoms.
It's better to limit the number and dose of medications. A good way to remember this is "start low, go slow." Talk to the psychiatrist about using the smallest amount of medication that helps relieve your child's symptoms. To judge a medication's effectiveness, your child may need to take a medication for several weeks or months. The doctor needs this time to decide whether to switch to a different medication. Because children's symptoms are complex, it's not unusual for them to need more than one type of medication.
Keep a daily log of your child's most troublesome symptoms. Doing so can make it easier for you, your child, and the doctor to decide whether a medication is helpful. Also, be sure to tell the psychiatrist about all other prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or natural supplements your child is taking. Taking certain medications and supplements together may cause unwanted or dangerous effects.
Some of the types of medications generally used to treat bipolar disorder are listed below. Information on medications can change.
To date, lithium (sometimes known as Eskalith), risperidone (Risperdal), and aripiprazole (Abilify) are the only medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat bipolar disorder in young people.
Lithium is a type of medication called a mood stabilizer. It can help treat and prevent manic symptoms in children ages 12 and older. In addition, there is some evidence that lithium might act as an antidepressant and help prevent suicidal behavior. However, FDA's approval of lithium was based on treatment studies in adults. In fact, some experts say the FDA might not approve giving lithium to bipolar youth if the agency were to review this treatment today.
Risperidone and aripiprazole are a type of medication called an atypical, or second-generation, antipsychotic. These medications are called "atypical" to set them apart from earlier types of medications, called conventional or first generation antipsychotics. Short-term treatment with risperidone can help reduce symptoms of mania or mixed mania in children ages 10 and up. Aripiprazole is approved to treat these symptoms in children 10-17 years old who have bipolar I.
Your child's psychiatrist may recommend other types of medication, which are listed below. Studies in adults with bipolar disorder show these medications may be helpful. However, these medications have not been approved by the FDA to treat bipolar disorder in children.
Anticonvulsant medications are commonly prescribed to treat seizures, but these medications can help stabilize moods too. They may be very helpful for difficult-to-treat bipolar episodes. For some children, anticonvulsants may work better than lithium. Not every child can take lithium. Examples of anticonvulsant medications include:
Valproic acid, lamotrigine, and other anticonvulsant medications have an FDA warning. The warning states that their use may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. People taking anticonvulsant medications for bipolar or other illnesses should be closely monitored for new or worsening symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts or behavior, or any unusual changes in mood or behavior. People taking these medications should not make any changes without talking to their health care professional.
Atypical antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder in children. These medications are called "atypical" to set them apart from earlier types of medications, called conventional or first-generation antipsychotics. In addition to risperidone and aripiprazole, atypical antipsychotic medications include:
Antidepressant medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder. Doctors who prescribe antidepressants for bipolar disorder usually prescribe a mood stabilizer or anticonvulsant medication at the same time. If your child takes only an antidepressant, he or she may be at risk of switching to mania or hypomania. He or she may also be at risk of developing rapid cycling symptoms. Rapid cycling is when someone has four or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed symptoms within a year. Some antidepressants that may be prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar depression are:
However, results on effectiveness of antidepressants for treating bipolar depression are mixed. The STEP-BD study showed that, in adults, adding an antidepressant to a mood stabilizer is no more effective in treating depression than using a mood stabilizer alone.
Some medications are better at treating one type of bipolar symptom than another. For example, lamotrigine (Lamictal) seems to be helpful in controlling depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
What are the side effects of these medications?
Before your child starts taking a new medication, talk with the doctor or pharmacist about possible risks and benefits of taking that medication.
The doctor or pharmacist can also answer questions about side effects. Over the last decade, treatments have improved, and some medications now have fewer or more tolerable side effects than past treatments. However, everyone responds differently to medications, and in some cases, side effects may not appear until a person has taken a medication for some time.
If your child develops any severe side effects from a medication, talk to the doctor who prescribed it as soon as possible. The doctor may change the dose or prescribe a different medication. Children and teens being treated for bipolar disorder should not stop taking a medication without talking to a doctor first. Suddenly stopping a medication may lead to "rebound," or worsening of bipolar disorder symptoms or other uncomfortable or potentially dangerous withdrawal effects.
The following sections describe some common side effects of the different types of medications used to treat bipolar disorder.
In addition to medication, psychotherapy ("talk" therapy) can be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder. Studies in adults show that it can provide support, education, and guidance to people with bipolar disorder and their families. Psychotherapy may also help children keep taking their medications to stay healthy and prevent relapse.
Some psychotherapy treatments used for bipolar disorder include:
2. Family-focused therapy includes a child's family members. It helps enhance family coping strategies, such as recognizing new episodes early and helping their child. This therapy also improves communication and problem-solving.
3. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy helps children and teens with bipolar disorder improve their relationships with others and manage their daily routines. Regular daily routines and sleep schedules may help protect against manic episodes.
4. Psychoeducation teaches young people with bipolar disorder about the illness and its treatment. This treatment helps people recognize signs of relapse so they can seek treatment early, before a full-blown episode occurs. Psychoeducation also may be helpful for family members and caregivers.
Other types of therapies may be tried as well, or used along with those mentioned above. The number, frequency, and type of psychotherapy sessions should be based on your child's treatment needs.
A licensed psychologist, social worker, or counselor typically provides these therapies. This professional often works with your child's psychiatrist to monitor care. Some may also be licensed to prescribe medications; check the laws in your state.
In addition to getting therapy to reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder, children and teens may also benefit from therapies that address problems at school, work, or in the community. Such therapies may target communication skills, problem-solving skills, or skills for school or work. Other programs, such as those provided by social welfare programs or support and advocacy groups, can help as well.
Some children with bipolar disorder may also have learning disorders or language problems. Your child's school may need to make accommodations that reduce the stresses of a school day and provide proper support or interventions.
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Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens - Symptoms Question: If you are under 20, please describe the symptoms associated with your bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens - Risk Question: Please discuss any family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses.
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens - Detection Question: Describe the events that led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in you (if you are a teen) or your child.
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens - Treatment Question: For parents of patients or teens: Describe the types of treatment you are receiving for bipolar disorder.