Bipolar disorder drug for adults also safe for children, study finds

A new study has found that a bipolar drug used successfully for decades to treat adults with the condition can also be safe and effective for children suffering from it.

The study, led by a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, US, suggests that doctors can now more confidently add lithium to the armamentarium of available treatments for this vulnerable population – at least in the short term.

“Lithium is the grandfather of all treatments for bipolar disorder, but it has never been rigorously studied in children,” said Robert Findling, also a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Lithium is one of the oldest drugs for bipolar disorder, a chronic brain condition marked by spontaneous, seesawing bouts of abnormally high moods and depression. The drug’s ability to stabilize mood extremes has been well-established in adults.

However, researchers say, although it can also be prescribed for children and teenagers, it has previously not been seriously tested in young people for safety and effectiveness.

To test whether lithium is safe and as effective at treating bipolar disorder for children as it is for adults, Findling and his colleagues grouped 81 participants, between the ages of 7 and 17, to take lithium and a placebo for eight weeks.

The participants were given a standard dose for the first four weeks before gradually increasing it to a maximum dose for the remaining weeks. The researchers assessed the participants’ moods using the standard tools used for bipolar disorder. They also listed the side effects of the drug on the participants.

The analysis showed that those who took lithium showed a significant improvement compared to those who were under the placebo. Almost half of them scored either “very much improved” or “much improved” compared to only 21 percent of those who were under the placebo.

Researchers plan to continue their work to determine whether lithium can be used on children long term.

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