Bipolar disorder in children: assessment in general pediatric practice

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2013 Jun;25(3):419-26. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e3283600e2a.


Purpose of review: Pediatricians are increasingly confronted with the mental health needs of children. Given the unanticipated role, well-described diagnostic guidelines and treatment protocols are essential: but often lacking. Identification of bipolar disorder in children, a condition which lacks diagnostic criteria consensus, presents a particular challenge. Despite this, it is generally regarded as a condition associated with considerable morbidity and mortality. Extended delays to treatment, typical for the condition, contribute to significantly reduced adult functionality.

Recent findings: Most children with bipolar disorder exhibit a subsyndromal course of illness. This has prompted many investigative groups to explore whether such a presentation is developmental or unique. Despite the ongoing debate, there has been a rapid increase in the rate of diagnoses. Concurrently, breakthroughs in neurology, neuroimaging, and genetics have called into question the existing conceptually based psychiatric constructs altogether. New research approaches which reflect these advances are more likely to lead to evidence-based diagnosis and treatment. Such an example is a novel phenotype called Fear of Harm (FOH). A new research perspective resulted in the unification of a broad range of symptoms from bipolar disorder as well as many of the co-occurring disorders. When considered as a whole, the syndrome maps on to a known neural pathway and has led investigators to a putative biomarker.

Summary: If given the right information and tools, pediatricians are uniquely positioned to interrupt the decline caused by mental illnesses. Importantly, the newly defined FOH syndrome includes clinical symptoms which are frequently first brought to the attention of pediatricians. Although these symptoms are not exclusive to the mood disorder, they could alert pediatricians to the need for further evaluation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Bipolar Disorder / physiopathology
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Child
  • Fear / psychology
  • Humans
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology