Bipolar Disorder in Teens - Symptoms, Treatment, and Other Information

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For many people, the first signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder become apparent in their late teens and early twenties. However, the actual initial symptoms may have occurred earlier in adolescence and been overlooked in the maelstrom that is puberty.

Children and teens do not always demonstrate the same behavioral patterns as bipolar adults, making the appropriate diagnosis challenging. For example, teens often experience rapid mood changes and may have some-mood related symptoms such as irritability and high anxiety levels. However, they may not clearly display the manic or even hallucinatory episodes often seen in adults.

Also, teens and children who do experience manic episodes will be much more likely to act out aggressively, throw tantrums, or show destructive behavior, while adults tend to be hyper-creative, euphoric or over-elated. Thus, a manic episode of bipolar disorder in teens can be misdiagnosed as oppositional defiant disorder or any number of other related behavioral problems.

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In adults, episodes of depression and mania last for several weeks or even months; however, for bipolar disorder in teens and children, the episodes can be much shorter and more intense.

For bipolar disorder in teens, the depressive episodes may begin with physical complaints like headaches, stomachaches, and a gradual retreat from social and other interactions. There may be talk of running away from home, need for isolation, unexplained absences from school, poor communication, and over-sensitivity to criticism or failure displayed by frequent crying spells.

A bipolar teen may also be more likely to submerge themselves in violent or gory movies, comics, and art as a way of expressing their inner turmoil. Some children even cycle between the two extremes in a 24-hour period.

For some, the episodes of bipolar disorder in teens follow no predetermined pattern; for others, there appear to be links to season, such as mania in the spring and depression with the onset of winter.

For many teens, unlike most adults, no real break occurs between episodes; that is, they appear to be constantly in the throes of the illness. This rapid cycling sometimes occurs in women, but much more frequently in children and teens.

Teens dealing with bipolar disorder may be especially prone to substance abuse. Resisting the urge to experiment with illegal substances can be difficult for any teen experiencing peer pressure, but with the added lapses in judgment experienced by teens in a manic or depressive episode, it may well be irresistible. Using alcohol or drugs can have disastrous effects on individuals affected with bipolar disorder, and may lead to addiction.

In addition, substance abuse can worsen any preexisting symptoms or trigger new cyclic episodes. Furthermore, with overlying substance abuse, bipolar disorder, including bipolar disorder in teens, becomes clinically more difficult to diagnose.

Current research seems to suggest that bipolar disorder beginning in childhood or early adolescence may be a different, more severe form of the illness seen in late adolescence and early adulthood. Long term, it may be more difficult to effectively treat and may have a larger range of effects not only on the neurological system, but on all bodily functions, especially with respect to the cardiovascular system. Some researchers hold that it may have permanent effects on development.

An adolescent who displays symptoms of depression and ADHD-like behaviors should be evaluated, with the aid of a complete medical and psychological history, by a mental health professional. Excessive temper outbursts and extreme or abrupt mood changes will be especially indicative that bipolar disorder may be present.

A complete evaluation for bipolar disorder in teens is of the utmost importance, as certain psycho-stimulant medications (for ADHD) and anti-depressants have an adverse impact on bipolar disorder, often triggering mania.

Some experts believe, too, that for the teen with a family history of bipolar or other mood disorders, ADHD symptoms represent the initial calling card for the later development of full blown manic - depression.

Treatment of bipolar disorder in teens includes education of the family regarding the illness, mood stabilizing medications, psychotherapy, and possibly other complementary treatments that seek to restore the balance in the mind. Therapy can help the teen come to terms with the illness, build self-esteem, and help re-establish relationships with family, friends, and peers. Teens can also learn to better adapt to stresses and triggers that could potentially set off an episode.

Proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder in teens can take a great deal of time, as the teenager must be evaluated and other possible conditions such as ADHD, drug abuse, delinquency, and others must be confirmed as being concurrent or ruled out, so that the proper treatment be identified.

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