Question: Do children take the same medications for bipolar disorder that adults take?
Answer: Yes, in fact children with bipolar disorder usually do take the same types of medication as adults with bipolar disorder. Where they differ very often is in the dosages because obviously children are usually smaller than adults. But not all the time does that determine the dose's difference. There may be differences in things like how efficiently their kidneys work or how efficiently their livers work to determine the dose.
Also what differs is side effects. Very often children don't have some of the side effects that adults experience because they do clear these medications better and more efficient. However other side effects, including things like weight gain, are more often seen in children than they are in adults. So there are big differences in the way children react to the medication.
As far as how effective they are, it does seem like probably children are a little bit more difficult to treat. In other words they don't respond quite as well to medication as adults do. It's clear that people who have a childhood onset of bipolar disorder usually have a more difficult and chronic course and are usually more difficult to treat.
Currently, the reason that we are using the same medications as adults is because the data that we have are really based upon one set of medications. Lithium, the mood stabilizers, the atypical antipsychotics are the major ones. But recently in the last two or three years, there have been many large scale trials designed to see whether or not these medications really are effective in children as we had suspected over the years. And most of the studies are starting to be coming back positive. There are a few negative studies that really bring to mind the fact that children really are different from adults in their brain chemistry and their developmental stage and so we should be looking more specifically at kids to finding out what's going to be the best and safest medication for them.