Kids diagnosed as bipolar on the rise

LOS ANGELES Rebecca O'Bannon and Justina Eten both have children with bipolar disorder -- an illness marked by severe mania and depression.

Ian was diagnosed at age 6 years old.

"Sometimes, like now, a couple of kids at my school call me special-ed and stupid because I'm special-ed, so it's not fun," said Ian.

At first, doctors thought he had ADHD and prescribed drugs his mom says made him psychotic.

"There were people in his head. Could I get the people out of his head? He was seeing evil come up through the floor," said Rebecca O'Bannon, Ian's mom.

Now, Ian is on the right medications to keep his outbursts under control.

Rebecca Eten, 7, is also on meds. But when she wasn't, she tried to jump out of a car going 40 miles an hour.

"She was pretty much out of control," said Justina Eten, Rebecca's mom.

Rebecca is sensitive to touch -- and hates having her hair brushed. She also has trouble in school.

One recent report reveals bipolar cases in children increased 40-fold among children and teens between 1994 and 2003 -- making it more prevalent than depression in kids.

Kids with bipolar are given the same powerful meds as adults. They can cause extreme weight gain, thirst, acne, excessive hair growth, and may increase the risk of infertility in adolescent girls.

But some say kids need the drugs to control their dangerous behavior.

But not all cases may be bipolar disorder. Dr. Ellen Leibenluft says brain images reveal differences in brain function between kids with bipolar disorder and those with a condition called severe mood dysregulation. These children report extreme irritability and hyperactivity -- but not mania.

"What we find is that although those two groups of children have some things in common, they're more different than they are similar," said Dr. Leibenluft.

Justina and Rebecca say bipolar is very real in their kids. They worry about the future, but still have goals.

"We just want her to live a successful and productive life," said Justina.

"My hope for Ian is that he'll be able to live as normal of a life as possible," said Rebecca.

While the diagnosis of bipolar increased 40-fold among children, it only increased two-fold among adults during the same time period.

Web Extra Information: Bipolar kids, a new battlefront

Background:

Bipolar disorder is a brain illness that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy and ability to function. The disorder used to be called manic depression because it is characterized by bouts of depression and bouts of mania. Patients experience dramatic mood swings. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance and even suicide. About 5.7 million American adults or about 2.6 percent of the population aged 18 and older have bipolar disorder in any given year. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.

Bipolar Kids:

Until recently, bipolar disorder, which tends to run in families, was seldom diagnosed in children. It was believed to begin in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found bipolar disorder in children and adolescents has risen 40-fold since 1994. The study revealed the disorder was found in 1,003 of every 100,000 office visits from children and adolescents between 2002-2003 compared to 25 of 100,000 office visits between 1994-1995. The diagnosis of bipolar disorder among adults increased two-fold during the same period of time.

Is it overdiagnosed?

No one knows for sure whether the disorder is being overdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in children. Some experts say the increase could mean there is just greater awareness about the disorder, so more young people are being diagnosed. Others say it could be something different. Ellen Leibenluft, M.D., from the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., says brain imaging reveals differences in brain function between kids with bipolar disorder and those with a condition called severe mood dysregulation. Children with severe mood dysregulation are extremely irritable and hyperactive, but they do not suffer from mania. "It turns out that the clinical kind of presentation, the very, very irritable child who is kind of hyper is much, much more common than bipolar disorder itself," says Dr. Leibenluft.

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