Little Agreement on Treating Residual Bipolar Disorder Symptoms in a Child

Robert M Post, Michael Rowe, Robert Findling
Primary Care Companion to CNS Disorders 2020 September 17, 22 (5)

Background: There is a paucity of studies on treatment of childhood-onset bipolar disorder and its associated comorbidities, which leads to a wide diversity of opinion on choice and sequencing of treatment options.

Methods: From December 2018 to January 2019, a graphic depiction of medications and weekly ratings of symptoms of mania, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and oppositional behavior that parents had rated on their 9-year-old child over a period of several years was sent to experts in child and adult bipolar disorder. These responding medical doctors (MDs, 8 child and 18 adult psychiatrists) rated a comprehensive list of medications that they would choose (and with what priority) to treat the child's now improved mood (mania and depression) but continued mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety, ADHD, and oppositional behavior.

Results: In the whole group, the drugs most highly endorsed were lamotrigine: 69%, lithium: 62%, lurasidone: 62%, quetiapine: 54%, aripiprazole: 46%, and valproate: 42%. Among the antidepressants, 38% endorsed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, 12% a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, and 27% bupropion. Of the child MDs, 75% suggested increasing the 1-mg dose of risperidone, while few adult MDs suggested this. Conversely, 56% of the adult MDs suggested using valproate, while only 1 child MD did so. There was little consensus on how to manage ADHD symptoms unresponsive to methylphenidate 36 mg/d. How these treatment options were sequenced also varied widely.

Conclusions: There was wide variation in suggestions on to how to treat persistent symptoms of anxiety, ADHD, and oppositional behavior in a child whose mania and depression had been brought under good control. We surmise that this great diversity in recommendations among experts in child and adult bipolar disorder stems at least partially from inadequate literature on treatment and that a new emphasis on funding and conducting studies on efficacy and effectiveness is needed.

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