Brain Scans May Be Able To Identify Unique Types of Depression

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An estimated 15 million American adults are affected by depression every year. While many are diagnosed with clinical depression, a number are misdiagnosed or untreated. The problem is that – like all mental illnesses – there is no objective lab test that can clearly and diagnose the condition.

Complicating matters even more, not every case of depression is the same. To be diagnosed with depression, patients have to report persistent low mood and meet at least four other criteria listed in the DSM 5. However, these symptoms can range wildly.

While some who are affected by depression may sleep excessively or find it hard to get out of bed, others face insomnia and restlessness. Similarly, some may withdraw from the public and isolate themselves, others may throw themselves into work or their social life to try to distract themselves from depression.

As Conor Liston, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine explained, β€œthe fact that we lump people together like this has been a big obstacle in understanding the neurobiology of depression.”

Now, research published in the journal Nature Medicine by Liston and colleagues may provide a solution to both problems – objectively identifying four unique subtypes of depression with a simple test.

The team recruited over 1,000 people, including about 40% who had been diagnosed with depression, to undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the strength of connections between neural circuits in the brain.

According to their report, the team was able to objectively identify four specific subtypes of depression using these scans. If confirmed, the findings could make identifying and treating depression much easier and more effective.

The most common treatment for depression includes counseling and medication, but many do not respond to antidepressants or therapy. If doctors were able to objectively identify the specific form of depression an individual has, they would be able to better tailor effective treatments without making them try several medications in the hope one works.

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