Early diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings from emotional highs such as mania to lows (depression), can help ensure patients receive appropriate and timely treatment. To improve the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, researchers have developed a blood test that can identify biomarkers associated with the condition.
In this new study, researchers, from the University of Cambridge, used a combination of an online psychiatric assessment and a blood test to diagnose patients with bipolar disorder, many of whom had been misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder, the university’s press release explained.
The findings showed that the blood test on its own could diagnose up to 30% of patients with bipolar disorder, but it is more effective when combined with an online mental health assessment. The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately one per cent of the population – as many as 80 million people worldwide but nearly 40% of patients are misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder, the statement explained. Using biomarkers can help in differentiating between bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, which often have similar symptoms but require different medical treatments.
“When someone with bipolar disorder is experiencing a period of low mood, to a physician, it can look very similar to someone with major depressive disorder,” lead author Sabine Bahn said in the statement. “However, the two conditions need to be treated differently: if someone with bipolar disorder is prescribed antidepressants without the addition of a mood stabiliser, it can trigger a manic episode.”
While a complete psychiatric assessment is an accurate way to diagnose bipolar disorder, the researchers emphasized in the statement that the ability to diagnose bipolar disorder with a simple blood test could ensure that patients get the right treatment the first time and alleviate some of the pressures on medical professionals.
Moreover, some patients preferred the biomarker test, because it was an objective result that they could see, the statement added. Along with diagnosis, biomarkers can also be used to identify potential drug targets for mood disorders, which could lead to better treatments.
Previous studies have also looked at biomarkers to improve the diagnosis of mental health conditions. In March, a new test was developed by researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine to examine biomarkers that can help determine someone's risk for developing anxiety.