Around the Practice: Identification and Management of Bipolar Disorder - Episode 1

Patient Case #1: 27-Year-Old Woman With Bipolar Disorder

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Custom Around the Practice Video Series

Experts in psychiatry review the case of a 27-year-old woman who presents for evaluation of a complex depressive disorder.

Michael E. Thase, MD: Hello and welcome to this Psychiatric Times™ Around the Practice, “Identification and Management of Bipolar Disorder. ”I’m Michael Thase, professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Joining me today are: Dr Gustavo Alva, the medical director of ATP Clinical Research in Costa Mesa, California; Dr Theresa Cerulli, the medical director of Cerulli and Associates in North Andover, Massachusetts; and Dr Tina Matthew-Hayes, a dual-certified nurse practitioner at Western PA Behavioral Health Resources in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.

Today we are going to highlight challenges with identifying bipolar disorder, discuss strategies for optimizing treatment, comment on telehealth utilization, and walk through 2 interesting patient cases. We’ll also involve our audience by using several polling questions, and these results will be shared after the program.

Without further ado, welcome and let’s begin. Here’s our first polling question. What percentage of your patients with bipolar disorder have 1 or more co-occurring psychiatric condition? a. 10%, b. 10%-30%, c. 30%-50%, d. 50%-70%, or e. more than 70%.

Now, here’s our second polling question. What percentage of your referred patients with bipolar disorder were initially misdiagnosed? Would you say a. less than 10%, b. 10%-30%, c. 30%-50%, d. more than 50%, up to 70%, or e. greater than 70%.

We’re going to go ahead to patient case No. 1. This is a 27-year-old woman who’s presented for evaluation of a complex depressive syndrome. She has not benefitted from 2 recent trials of antidepressants—sertraline and escitalopram. This is her third lifetime depressive episode. It began back in the fall, and she described the episode as occurring right “out of the blue.” Further discussion revealed, however, that she had talked with several confidantes about her problems and that she realized she had been disappointed and frustrated for being passed over unfairly for a promotion at work. She had also been saddened by the unusually early death of her favorite aunt.

Now, our patient has a past history of ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], which was recognized when she was in middle school and for which she took methylphenidate for adolescence and much of her young adult life. As she was wrapping up with college, she decided that this medication sometimes disrupted her sleep and gave her an irritable edge, and decided that she might be better off not taking it. Her medical history was unremarkable. She is taking escitalopram at the time of our initial evaluation, and the dose was just reduced by her PCP [primary care physician]from 20 mg to 10 mg because she subjectively thought the medicine might actually be making her worse.

On the day of her first visit, we get a PHQ-9 [9-item Patient Health Questionnaire]. The score is 16, which is in the moderate depression range. She filled out the MDQ [Mood Disorder Questionnaire] and scored a whopping 10, which is not the highest possible score but it is higher than 95% of people who take this inventory.

At the time of our interview, our patient tells us that her No. 1 symptom is her low mood and her ease to tears. In fact, she was tearful during the interview. She also reports that her normal trouble concentrating, attributable to the ADHD, is actually substantially worse. Additionally, in contrast to her usual diet, she has a tendency to overeat and may have gained as much as 5 kg over the last 4 months. She reports an irregular sleep cycle and tends to have periods of hypersomnolence, especially on the weekends, and then days on end where she might sleep only 4 hours a night despite feeling tired.

Upon examination, her mood is positively reactive, and by that I mean she can lift her spirits in conversation, show some preserved sense of humor, and does not appear as severely depressed as she subjectively describes. Furthermore, she would say that in contrast to other times in her life when she’s been depressed, that she’s actually had no loss of libido, and in fact her libido might even be somewhat increased. Over the last month or so, she’s had several uncharacteristic casual hook-ups.

So the differential diagnosis for this patient included major depressive disorder, recurrent unipolar with mixed features, versus bipolar II disorder, with an antecedent history of ADHD. I think the high MDQ score and recurrent threshold level of mixed symptoms within a diagnosable depressive episode certainly increase the chances that this patient’s illness should be thought of on the bipolar spectrum. Of course, this formulation is strengthened by the fact that she has an early age of onset of recurrent depression, that her current episode, despite having mixed features, has reverse vegetative features as well. We also have the observation that antidepressant therapy has seemed to make her condition worse, not better.

Transcript Edited for Clarity

Dr. Thase is a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Alva is the medical director of ATP Clinical Research in Costa Mesa, California.

Dr. Cerulli is the medical director of Cerulli and Associates in Andover, Massachusetts.

Dr. Tina Matthew-Hayes is a dual certified nurse practitioner at Western PA Behavioral Health Resources in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.