A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics has shown lithium to be safe and effective for kids with bipolar disorder.
The treatment had been widely used among adults who suffer from this serious medical condition, which is also known as manic-depressive illness. Now, findings have revealed that even children can be prescribed lithium, at least on a short-term basis.
Research was conducted by a team of experts, led by Dr. Robert Findling, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
While the beneficial effects of lithium on adults affected by bipolar disorder had been documented extensively, according to experts, little had been known about the impact this medication would have on children.
There had been fears regarding the safety of this drug, despite its extensive use among adults. Children with this disorder had been prescribed schizophrenia medicine instead, which caused numerous side effects.
In an effort to clarify things, scientists investigated a group of 81 manic-depressive patients, aged between 7 and 17. The participants were split into 2 groups, who were given distinct treatment for a period of 8 weeks.
One of the groups, consisting in 53 individuals, began by taking a typical dose of lithium, which was gradually increased up to the maximum dose if symptoms persisted. Another group of 28 kids was administered a placebo, for the same length of time.
It was determined that subjects who had taken lithium had experienced a significant improvement in their condition.
Normally, bipolar disorder manifests itself through severe mood wings, which occur unpredictably. The illness leaves patients unable to complete everyday tasks, as their energy and activity levels fluctuate drastically. Mood episodes oscillate between manic, mixed and depressive states.
During manic periods, people feel unusually “high” and overly joyful and excited. They are also easily distracted, highly impulsive, unrealistic, tireless and restless.
In depressive episodes, they experience extreme sadness, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. They also disrupt their usual daily patterns due to lethargy, and they have difficulty concentrating or completing tasks.
According to study authors, participants who had taken lithium had fewer mood swings of this sort, and their symptoms were greatly alleviated.
47% of those in the group that had been prescribed lithium were “much improved” or “very much improved”, whereas just 21% of those in the placebo category experienced a change for the better.
Also, scores on the Young Mania Rating Scale dropped approximately 6 points among those who had received lithium.
Moreover, in contrast with other treatments like olanzapine and risperidone, lithium caused no major weight gain, and there were no other significant adverse effects either.
Therefore, administering this drug at least on a short-term basis seems to be highly effective and safe even when it comes to young patients.
Experts will now have to conduct further research to see if these beneficial effects persist during long-term use as well, since many patients have to receive such medication for their entire life.
Side-effects will also have to be carefully investigated, to ensure that this promising treatment doesn’t cause any complications, such as kidney or thyroid damage.
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