Updated: May 01, 2009

teen-child-bipolar(GETTY IMAGES)Bipolar disorder looks different in children and teens than it does in adults. Though young people often exhibit some of the classic symptoms of bipolar disorder—including depression, irritability, excess energy, and hypersexuality—there are some differences that can make bipolar disorder difficult to recognize. Young people often dont have sustained and clearly defined manic episodes, for instance. Instead they might frequently experience several severe mood swings in a single day.

Bipolar disorder in children and teens is sometimes misdiagnosed as major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder. Even so, more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder than ever before. A 2007 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that between 1994 and 2003 the rate of bipolar diagnosis in people age 18 and younger increased forty-fold. Overdiagnosis is “a huge problem,” says Mani Pavuluri, MD, PhD, director of the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “So is underdiagnosis.”

Its important to know the symptoms of bipolar disorder in children and teens so that you can adequately inform your childs doctor. Some of the medications prescribed for the conditions listed above can actually exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder.