Course of subthreshold bipolar disorder in youth: diagnostic progression from bipolar disorder not otherwise specified

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;50(10):1001-16.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Sep 8.


Objective: To determine the rate of diagnostic conversion from an operationalized diagnosis of bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS) to bipolar I disorder (BP-I) or bipolar II disorder (BP-II) in youth over prospective follow-up and to identify factors associated with conversion.

Method: Subjects were 140 children and adolescents recruited from clinical referrals or advertisement who met operationalized criteria for BP-NOS at intake and participated in at least one follow-up evaluation (91% of initial cohort). Diagnoses were assessed at follow-up interviews using the Longitudinal Interval Follow-Up Evaluation. The mean duration of follow-up was 5 years and the mean interval between assessments was 8.2 months.

Results: Diagnostic conversion to BP-I or BP-II occurred in 63 subjects (45%): 32 (23%) to BP-I (nine of whom had initially converted to BP-II) and 31 to only BP-II (22%). Median time from intake to conversion was 58 weeks. First- or second-degree family history of mania or hypomania was the strongest baseline predictor of diagnostic conversion (p = .006). Over follow-up, conversion was associated with greater intensity of hypomanic symptoms and with greater exposure to specialized, intensive outpatient psychosocial treatments. There was no association between conversion and exposure to treatment with particular medication classes.

Conclusions: Children and adolescents referred with mood symptoms that meet operationalized criteria for BP-NOS, particularly those with a family history of BP, frequently progress to BP-I or BP-II. Efforts to identify these youth and effectively intervene may have the potential to curtail the progression of mood disorders in this high-risk population.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bipolar Disorder / classification*
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index*