Diagnosing Pediatric Bipolar Disorder
Jan 16, 2005

Parents talk a lot about kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but ADHD often gets confused with other conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Now doctors can use a specially designed questionnaire to come up with a child's correct diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Mani Pavuluri, a child psychiatrist and mood disorder specialist, created the new screening tool. It includes a list of questions parents can answer in 15 minutes. The questions are based on behavior typical of someone with bipolar disorder: talking really fast, not getting enough sleep, being hypersexual, being on the go all the time.

Since several of those behaviors are also present in ADHD, there are additional questions about mood swings. Children with bipolar disorder can be very up and very, very down. The condition can escalate without the right help.

"That unpredictability, intensity and disturbance in life caused by these mood swings can really destroy kids' lives," said Dr. Pavuluri.

The questionnaire is scored, with the highest possible total being 63. Doctors say anything over 15 means it's highly likely the subject is bipolar. More testing will be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Jenn Volstedt is 16. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with depression.

"I always felt I couldn't control my feelings and my emotions," Jenn said.

"I would never know how Jennifer would react," said her mother, Pat.

The recommended treatment didn't help, so Jenn went to a new doctor, who asked her mother to fill out the questionnaire. The answers gave Jenn's child psychiatrist reason to test further for pediatric bipolar disorder. She was eventually diagnosed with it.

Ever since Jenn received her new diagnosis, she and her mother have felt as though they finally have a handle on her life. The teenager already feels better with her new medication.

"It was a huge relief to know exactly what was going on," Jenn's mother said.