Brain Scans Could Distinguish Bipolar Disorder From Depression

New research revealed this month by the Westmead Institute for Medical Research shows that neurons located deep within the brain may offer a solution to the accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder and depression.

According to ScienceDaily, the research team used state of the art MRI scanning to determine how the amygdala — a group of neurons that help process emotions — reacts as a patient processes facial expressions stemming from such emotions as fear, sadness, anger, disgust and happiness.

This key structure within the brain tends to respond differently depending on whether the patient suffers from bipolar disorder or depression. In those with bipolar disorder, the left portion of the amygdala appears to be less active and less connected with other areas of the brain than in those who suffer from depression.

The study revealed an 80 percent accuracy in making the distinction. Researchers say those differences may be utilized in the future to show the differences between bipolar disorder from depressive disorders.

Mental illness, especially bipolar disorder and depression, can be difficult to diagnose because they both have similar symptoms. But while they are very similar, bipolar individuals also have mania, which complicates how the two can be distinguished. In turn, this presents a big challenge in a clinical setting as treatment varies on what the primary diagnosis is.

The incorrect diagnosis can pose a danger to patients, particularly in regards to poor economic and social outcomes, as they go through treatment for an entirely different disorder. Identifying brain markers that could distinguish the two would have many clinical benefits, one being that doctors would be better able to understand the disorders. Another benefit would allow doctors to better identify risk factors for the development of the disorders and give a clear diagnosis from the beginning.

About 60 percent of patients with bipolar disorder are initially misdiagnosed as having the major depressive disorder, sometimes taking up to 10 years or more for the patient to get an accurate diagnosis of what they really have: bipolar disorder.

The confusion arises in the fact that bipolar disorder can include depression; however, bipolar disorder is a combination of mania and depression, alternating in cycles. If the manic cycles last more than a week at a time, followed by episodes of severe depression, that person is said to be manic/depressive, or bipolar. Depression, on the other hand, has no mania, characterized by a depressive state all the time.

While the results of this study are promising, further research must be done in order to further characterize those markers in larger groupings of patients.

It’s important to note that while the results are interesting, the findings are very experimental and procedures to utilize this system are not currently available. If they are ultimately found to be useful in a clinical setting, it will be many years before this type of assessment would be commercially available.

That said, we provide comprehensive evaluation and treatment for our patients suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. In particular, we offer cutting-edge Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy for Resistant Depression, a non-invasive, non-medication treatment used for cases of severe depression and OCD. To learn more, contact Comprehensive MedPsych Systems at 941-363-0878.

Our self-pay rates will soon be updated. Please contact our staff for more information.