Neuroimaging: A New Diagnostic Tool for Bipolar Disorder?

According to ‘ScienceBlog’ : ‘MRI may be an effective way to diagnose mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, according to experts from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. In a landmark study using advanced techniques, the researchers were able to correctly distinguish bipolar patients from healthy individuals based on their brain scans alone. The data are published in the journal Psychological Medicine’.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ddpavumba/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now this is a potentially very important finding indeed.  To date, bipolar disorder (and other psychiatric conditions) has been diagnosed on the basis of symptoms alone; this is not a simple process given the complex way in which the condition manifests and presents itself. Indeed most people who receive a diagnosis have done so only after living with the condition for many years.  Moreover, the lack of a diagnostic test has lead some individuals to question whether or not bipolar disorder is a bone fide medical condition that requires treatment like any other illness.

It is very heartening to see that research into bipolar disorder diagnostics is moving apace.  That, together with research looking at targeted (and individualised) treatment options based on genetic profiling promises to make life easier for those living with this complex condition.

You can read more on this exciting development here: http://scienceblog.com/63679/neuroimaging-may-offer-new-way-to-diagnose-bipolar-disorder/#DSwh0syIA1GckUtQ.99

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One thought on “Neuroimaging: A New Diagnostic Tool for Bipolar Disorder?

  1. *sigh*

    Since I completed my psychology degree in 1980 I estimate that I’ve seen an average of two to three claims per year of a ‘breakthrough’ that will result in biomarkers for mental illness – with the frequency increasing steeply over the past decade and a half.

    The number that have panned out?
    Zero.

    In fact the last biological correlates for mental illness were discovered in late 19th and early 20th century (heavy metal poisoning, epilepsy and syphilis related mental illness).

    Want to take a bet that this neo-phrenological approach will come up with the same?
    Zip. Zilch. Nada.

    In fact I’ve already heard about half a dozen claims for MRI and fMRI diagnostics for mental illness that have come to nothing.

    Note that “73% accuracy” is very poor when you’re talking about a condition that exists in less than 2% of the population. If you ran it on 400 people chosen at random you would miss 2 of the 8 bipolars in the group and misdiagnose over 100 healthy people as bipolar. For comparison, standard HIV tests are over 99.95% accurate.

    I’ve got a bipolar I diagnosis myself but I still think the diagnostic criteria are crap.

    There are probably dozens of conditions – physical, life-event, lifestyle, socio-cultural and environmental – that can lead to symptoms that will get you a bipolar diagnosis.
    Just like depression.

    There will be many different physiological correlates among different patients and many will have no physiological correlates at all.

    The ‘epidemic’ of rapid cycling bipolar II (especially with switching) is almost certainly due to over prescription of SSRIs and SNRIs.
    http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=99598
    Perhaps the most reliable ‘biomarker’ for rapid cycling bipolar is traces of antidepressants in your blood.

    It’s not surprising they can’t find biomarkers for mental illness.
    What’s surprising is that there are still so many people trying (or pretending to).

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