Clinical Risk Prediction in Youth at Risk for Bipolar Spectrum Disorder and Relapse

July 21, 2020 · Posted in Course of Illness, Diagnosis, Risk Factors · Comment 

Researchers from two 15-year studies of bipolar youth, COBY (The Coarse and Outcome of Bipolar Youth Study) and BIOS (Bipolar Offspring Family Study), have used the longitudinal data from their studies in order to create a risk calculator that can predict an individual’s likelihood of illness.

At the 2020 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Danella Hafeman presented research on a risk calculator that predicts the 5-year risk for onset of a bipolar disorder spectrum diagnosis (BPSD) in young people at high risk and can reasonably distinguish those who will receive a diagnosis from those who will not.

Some of the factors used in the risk calculator include dimensional measures of mania, depression, anxiety, and mood lability; psychosocial functioning; and the age at which parents were diagnosed with a mood disorder.

Hafeman reported that there was a 25% risk that offspring of a bipolar parent would develop a bipolar disorder spectrum diagnosis. In a population ranging in age from 6 to 18 years, Hafeman and colleagues found that anxiety and depression symptoms were a sign of vulnerability to a bipolar spectrum disorder, while subthreshold manic symptoms indicated that a bipolar spectrum disorder could soon emerge. Sudden or exaggerated changes in mood were also an important predictor of BPSD.

Hafeman and colleauges noted that even in children as young as 2 to 5 years old, there were already signs of anxiety, aggression, attention problems, depression, and sudden mood changes in those who would go on to receive a diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorder.

The researchers were also able to predict which patients with BPSD would have a relapse. According to Hafeman and colleagues, “The most influential recurrence risk factors were shorter recovery lengths, younger age at assessment, earlier mood onset, and more severe prior depression.”

Editor’s Note: Offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder are at high risk for anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, and bipolar disorder. Parents should be alert for the symptoms of these illnesses and seek evaluation and treatment for their children as necessary. Parents should also be aware of the risk factors above that contributed to the risk calculator.

Parents can aid physicians in their evaluation by joining our Child Network and keeping weekly ratings of their children’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, oppositional behavior, and mania.

Treating Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Children at Risk

April 10, 2020 · Posted in Current Treatments, Diagnosis · Comment 

At the 2019 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one symposium was devoted to new research on predicting onset of bipolar disorder in children who have a family history of the disorder. Below are some of the findings that were reported. See previous articles for more on this symposium.

Sub-Threshold Bipolar Disorder or BP-NOS is Impairing and Requires Treatment

In research Danella M. Hafeman’s research, children with BP-NOS were almost as ill as those with bipolar I disorder (BP I) and experienced equal incidence of suicide attempts, substance abuse, other simultaneous psychiatric diagnoses, and functional impairment, clearly indicating that they were in need of treatment. About 50–65% of participants with a family history of bipolar disorder converted from diagnoses of BP-NOS to BP I, while those with BP-NOS and no family history of bipolar disorder converted to BP I at rates of about 30–48%.

Several presenters presented data showing that those with sub-threshold bipolar disorder had severe functional impairment, a high incidence of suicide attempts, and additional diagnoses including ADHD, conduct disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Diagnostic Tool Can Help Identify Children with Bipolar Disorder

Researcher Amy Yule indicated that a tool called the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) is effective for making the diagnosis of conduct disorder in children with bipolar disorder, while researcher Joseph Biederman showed that the CBCL can also identify children with bipolar I disorder and is faster and simpler to use in clinical practice than are full structured diagnostic interviews.
Researcher Janet Wozniak found that there was a high incidence of bipolar disorder in first-degree relatives of children with sub-threshold bipolar disorder, suggesting the validity of identifying youth with sub-threshold bipolar symptoms.

As discussed above, there is also a high incidence of children with BP-NOS progressing to a full diagnosis of bipolar I or II disorder (as many as 50% of those with a family history of bipolar disorder). However, the point is not to wait for the negative effects of a full diagnosis before beginning treatment: BP-NOS itself requires treatment.

Discussion and Emerging Consensus on Treatment, Particularly of BP-NOS

Experts in the field agree that family focused therapy (FFT) or its equivalent is a crucial first step to treatment of depression, cyclothymia (cycling between depressive and hypomanic symptoms that do not meet the threshold for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder), and BP-NOS in children who are at high risk of bipolar disorder because they have a parent with the disorder.

A second area of agreement is that young people with BP-NOS should have a positive therapeutic coach (which could be a treating physician if no other person is available), who can emphasize important early steps that can improve short- and long-term health. These include maintaining a healthy diet, exercise (such as participation in school sports), the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation, and playing and practicing a musical instrument. Parental support is also critical to decreasing negative expressed emotion.

Early interventions and wellness programs that focus on these factors are part of the successful Vermont Family Based Approach, led by psychiatrist Jim Hudziak, Director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth, and Families. Since programs like these are not widely available, treating physicians must create their own teams to provide such encouragement, and teach families how to find or establish such a support network.

School teachers should be engaged in support of the treatment of a child with bipolar disorder. Teachers should pay special attention to behavioral symptoms of an ill child. It also may be important for physicians to connect directly with teachers to ensure that children recovering from an episode of bipolar disorder receive extra time for assignments, a decreased academic burden, and other support. Researcher Manon H. Hillegers indicated that intervention by a physician will likely be listened to and believed, while parental requests alone to teachers or to the school may go ignored.

Hillegers, like researcher Lakshmi Yatham and colleagues, have found that it takes a year after a first manic episode for a child’s cognition to return to normal, so that special allowances should be made for such students even many months after they have recovered from their mania.

Predicting Onset of Bipolar Disorder in Children at High Risk: Part II

April 7, 2020 · Posted in Diagnosis, Potential Treatments · Comment 

teen girl on beach

At the 2019 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one symposium was devoted to new research on predicting onset of bipolar disorder in children who have a family history of the disorder. Below are some of the findings that were reported.

Early Recognition and Treatment Needed

Researcher Boris Birmaher, the discussant of the symposium, described a sample of 100 children between the ages of 2 and 5; half had a parent with bipolar disorder, and these were compared to community controls. Those children who had a parent with bipolar disorder had a high incidence of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and ODD, and their conversion to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was predicted by early age of onset of bipolar disorder in the parent (again) and by the presence of family conflict.

Birmaher emphasized that a delay before children and adolescents with bipolar disorder received their first treatment for the illness had terrible effects—more suicide attempts, completed suicides, substance abuse, and school failure. Birmaher urged early recognition of bipolar disorder and adequate treatment in order to delay onset of the disorder and to render its course more benign.

Childhood-Onset Bipolar Disorder Incidence

Researcher Anna Van Meter and colleagues showed that the incidence of bipolar disorder in children is about 2% worldwide. Researcher Kathleen Merikangas and colleagues report that 80% of adolescents with a bipolar spectrum disorder are not receiving any kind of treatment. Researcher Ben Goldstein indicated that about 50% of those with a full diagnosis of bipolar disorder receive treatment in Canada (where such treatment is cost-free).

Delayed Treatment Leads to Compounding Challenges

Since longer intervals without treatment predict poorer outcomes in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and early onset bipolar disorder has been linked to longer delays before first treatment, a significant number of children, particularly in the US, are at risk for disastrous outcomes. Earlier recognition and treatment is imperative, especially since even bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS) can be severe, impairing, associated with multiple simultaneous comorbid diagnoses, and has a familial (genetic) basis.

Predicting Onset of Bipolar Disorder in Children at High Risk: Part I

April 3, 2020 · Posted in Diagnosis, Risk Factors · Comment 

teenage boy sitting on floor with arms on kneesAt the 2019 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one symposium was devoted to new research on predicting onset of bipolar disorder in children who have a family history of the disorder. Below are some of the findings that were reported.

Symptom Progression

In offspring of parents with bipolar disorder, researcher Anne Cecilia Duffy found that symptoms in the children tended to progress in a typical sequence. Childhood sleep and anxiety disorders were first to appear, then depressive symptoms, then bipolar disorder.

Different Types of Illness May Respond Best to Different Medications

Duffy’s research also suggested links between illness features and a good response to specific medications. Those offspring who developed a psychotic spectrum disorder responded best to atypical antipsychotic medication. Those with classical episodic bipolar I disorder responded well to lithium, especially if there was a family history of lithium responsiveness. Those offspring with bipolar II (and anxiety and substance abuse) responded well to anticonvulsant medications.
If parents with bipolar disorder had experienced early onset of their illness, their children were more likely to receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

The offspring of lithium-responsive parents tended to be gifted students, while those from lithium non-responders tended to be poorer students.

Comparing Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder and Unipolar Depression

Researcher Martin Preisig and colleagues also showed that parental early onset of bipolar disorder (before age 21) was a risk factor for the offspring receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Parental oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was also a risk factor for bipolar disorder in the offspring. The emergence of depression, conduct disorder, drug use, and sub-syndromal hypomanic symptoms also predicted the onset of mania during childhood.

Conversely, sexual abuse and witnessing violence were strong risk factors associated with a diagnosis of major (unipolar) depressive disorder. Being female and experiencing separation anxiety were also factors that predicted unipolar depression.

Predicting Conversion to Mania

Researcher Danella M. Hafeman reported that mood swings (referred to in the literature as “affective lability”), depression/anxiety, and having a parent who had an early onset of bipolar disorder were linked to later diagnoses of mania. Immediate risk factors that predicted an imminent onset of mania included affective lability, substance abuse, and the presence of sub-threshold manic symptoms.

7-Year-Olds At Risk for Schizophrenia, But Not Bipolar Disorder, Show Specific Types of Cognitive Dysfunction

March 16, 2020 · Posted in Diagnosis · Comment 

young boy with question marks on a chalk boardA large Danish study investigated whether children at risk for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder would show signs of cognitive problems. The study by researcher Nicoline Hemager and colleagues was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2018.

The researchers identified 7-year-olds,197 who had family members with schizophrenia, 118 who had family members with bipolar disorder, and 199 control 7-year-olds with no family history of these illnesses. Those children at risk for schizophrenia had significantly more cognitive deficits and behavioral disorders than the controls, while those children at risk for bipolar disorder did not differ significantly from the controls. The deficits among the children at risk for schizophrenia were in the areas of processing speed and working memory, executive and visuospatial functions, and declarative memory and attention.

The researchers indicated that the neurocognitive profile seen in the children at risk for schizophrenia could help clinicians identify these children for early intervention.

Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder May Have Higher Levels of Vitamin D–Binding Protein

May 7, 2019 · Posted in Diagnosis, Risk Factors · Comment 

illustration of vitamin D binding protein

Vitamin D binding protein. Illustration: Emw [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

 

A 2018 article by Brawnie Petrov and colleagues in the journal Translational Psychiatry suggests that adolescents with bipolar disorder have higher levels of vitamin D–binding protein than adolescents without a mood disorder. The researchers wrote that vitamin D–binding protein “responds early to cellular damage by binding…structural proteins and activating inflammatory cells.”

This pilot study suggests that measuring levels of vitamin D–binding protein could be a useful marker of bipolar disorder. The study was small, with only 12 participants who had bipolar disorder, 11 who had unipolar depression, and 13 with no mood disorder. The researchers hope to follow up with larger studies in adolescents and adults using blood that has already been collected from people with bipolar disorder.

Vitamin D–binding protein is not measured by a standard blood test. The study authors used a technique where they “fished” for inflammatory factors that might be linked to mood disorders. The researchers began by looking for a link between other inflammatory markers in the blood and bipolar disorder, which have repeatedly been found in other studies, but they did not find any such association. There also did not seem to be a link between bipolar illness and vitamin D levels in the blood, only vitamin D–binding protein levels.

It can be especially difficult to distinguish early bipolar disorder from unipolar depression, and if the results of this small study are replicated, a blood test might eventually help to identify people with bipolar disorder earlier.

Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Diagnoses Much More Common in US than England

April 19, 2018 · Posted in Diagnosis, Political Commentary · Comment 

Outline of the USA 2014 article by Anthony James and colleagues in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that hospitalizations for pediatric bipolar disorder are 72.1 times higher in the US than in England.

The researchers determined that there were 100.9 diagnoses of pediatric bipolar disorder per 100,000 people in the US, but only 1.4 cases per 100,000 people in Britain. The discrepancy in diagnoses for adult bipolar disorder and for other childhood psychiatry illnesses were smaller but still notable: While 158.2 adults per 100,000 in the US were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, only 22.1 adults per 100,000 in England received such a diagnosis, making the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in adults 7.2 times more common in the US. Diagnoses of childhood attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were 13.0 times more common in the US than in England, while cases of childhood depression were 4.2 times more common in the US.

James and colleagues hypothesized several potential reasons for the dramatic difference in diagnosis rates at hospital discharge of bipolar disorder in children in the US versus England. The lower hospitalization rates for pediatric bipolar disorder in England may reflect the better availability of community or outpatient treatment options there. Diagnostic practices may also differ. James and colleagues suggested that in the US, pediatric diagnoses of bipolar disorder are often used to describe children and adolescents with irritability and frequent mood shifts, whereas English diagnostic practices rely more on episodic bouts of euphoria to diagnose bipolar disorder in children.

However, children in the US may simply be more likely to have a variety of childhood psychiatric disorders than those from England.

Editor’s Note: Epidemiological data support the view that bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS), which is often the earliest manifestation of bipolar disorder, is indeed much more common in the US than multiple other countries.

Even if there are some diagnostic differences that contribute to the immense 72.1 fold higher rates of hospitalization for childhood bipolar in the US compared to Britain, one cannot overlook the findings that these children are requiring hospitalization for something resembling bipolar disorder and are in need of treatment. Read more

Marker of Heart Failure May Predict Brain Deterioration

July 27, 2017 · Posted in Diagnosis · Comment 

heartA protein released into the blood in response to heart failure may be able to predict brain deterioration before clinical symptoms appear. The protein, N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), is released when cardiac walls are under stress. High levels of NT-proBNP in the blood are a sign of heart disease. A 2016 Dutch study indicated that high levels of NT-proBNP in the blood are also linked to smaller brain volume, particularly small gray matter volume, and to poorer organization of the brain’s white matter. The study by researcher Hazel I. Zonneveld and colleagues, published in the journal Neuroradiology, assessed heart and brain health in 2,397 middle-aged and elderly people with no diagnosed heart or cognitive problems.

Researchers are working to clarify the relationship between cardiac dysfunction and preliminary brain disease, but researcher Meike Vernooij says it is likely cardiac dysfunction comes first and leads to brain damage. Measuring biomarkers such as NT-proBNP may help identify brain diseases such as stroke and dementia earlier and allow for earlier treatment and lifestyle changes that can slow or reverse the course of disease.

In Case Control Study, Two-Thirds of Patients With Severe Depression Had Underlying Metabolic Abnormalities

July 18, 2017 · Posted in Diagnosis, Risk Factors · Comment 

depressed manA recent study suggests that potentially treatable metabolic abnormalities in the central nervous system may underlie a large proportion of cases of severe, treatment-resistant depression. These abnormalities, such as folate deficiency in the cerebrospinal fluid, are not screened for regularly, as they require a spinal tap to diagnose.

Researchers led by Lisa A. Pan were inspired to assess metabolic function in people with treatment-resistant depression after a young patient with severe, persistent depression who had attempted suicide several times improved dramatically after being diagnosed with a tetrahydrobiopterin deficiency in his cerebrospinal fluid and treated for the deficiency. Tetrahydrobiopterin is critical to the production of monoamine neurotransmitters.

The researchers carried out a case-control study of 33 teen and young adult patients who had had treatment-resistant depression since childhood and 16 healthy control participants. Twenty-one of the 33 patients with severe depression had metabolic abnormalities in their cerebrospinal fluid. Twelve had cerebral folate deficiencies (but no folate deficiency in blood tests). Those who took folinic acid for at least six weeks (1–2 mg/kg/day) in addition to their regular medications showed sometimes dramatic improvement in their depression.

Other metabolic issues identified in the patients with severe depression included abnormal levels of acylcarnitine in five patients, low tetrahydrobiopterin intermediates in one, low guanidinoacetate in another, and unusual creatine/creatinine ratios in three patients. None of the healthy participants had any metabolic abnormality.

While the study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2017, was small, it suggests that the underlying causes of some severe depression cases are going undiagnosed and untreated. The authors suggest that assessment of metabolic function should be more common in cases of severe treatment-resistant depression.

Measuring Inflammation in Neuropsychiatric Disorders May Shed Light on Treatment

March 14, 2017 · Posted in Diagnosis · Comment 

testing for inflammatory markers in blood

Meta-analyses have found links between elevated levels of inflammatory markers and many neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.  Multiple studies also show that those with elevated inflammatory markers such as interleukin-1, interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha, and c-reactive protein (CRP) also respond less well to typical treatments than those with normal levels of these markers in the blood.

These links suggest that it could be useful to measure levels of these inflammatory markers in the blood of people who are responding poorly to medications. If one or more of these markers are elevated, it might be a sign that treatment with an anti-inflammatory agent could be helpful. Preliminary studies have shown that some neuropsychiatric disorders may improve after treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, celecoxib (Celebrex), and the antibiotic minocycline, among others.

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