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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • children;
  • course;
  • diagnosis;
  • DSM-criteria;
  • pediatric psychiatry

Background:  Specific features and diagnostic boundaries of childhood bipolar disorder (BD) remain controversial, and its differentiation from other disorders challenging, owing to high comorbidity with other common childhood disorders, and frequent lack of an episodic course typical of adult BD.

Methods:  We repeatedly examined children meeting DSM-IV criteria for BD (excluding episode-duration requirements) and analyzed their clinical records to evaluate age-at-onset, family history, symptoms, course, and comorbidity.

Results:  Of 82 juveniles (aged 10.6 ± 3.6 years) diagnosed with BD, 90% had a family history of mood or substance-use disorders, but only 10% of patients had been diagnosed with BD. In 74%, psychopathology was recognized before age 3, usually as mood and sleep disturbances, hyperactivity, aggression, and anxiety. At onset, dysphoric-manic and mixed presentations were most common (48%), euphoric mania less (35%), and depression least (17%). Subtype diagnoses were: BP-I (52%) > BP-II (40%) > cyclothymia (7%). DSM episode-duration criteria were met in 52% of cases, and frequent shifts of mood and energy were common.

Limitations:  Partly retrospective study of clinically diagnosed referred outpatients without a comparison group.

Conclusions:  Pediatric BD is often mis- or undiagnosed, although it often manifests with mood lability and sleep disturbances early in life. DSM BD criteria inconsistent with clinical findings require revision for pediatric application.