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“Bipolar disorder diagnosed by fMRI? Yeah, okay!”

Bringing you details of cutting-edge research is one of my responsibilities. Actually, I enjoy this kind of stuff very much. And I enjoy it all the more when it’s as exciting as this.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is extremely difficult; and patient, family members, significant others, psychiatrist, and therapist are all too often stuck in the disappointment and danger of a mis/missed diagnosis.

According to Mary Phillips, professor of psychiatry and director of the Clinical and Translational Affective Neuroscience Program at the University of Pittsburgh (why do they always have to make those so long?)…

“Only one in five sufferers are correctly diagnosed at first presentation to a doctor and it can take up to ten years before sufferers receive a correct diagnosis.”

“The problem is that sufferers [of bipolar disorder] frequently fail to tell their doctors about hypomanic phases because they can be experienced as quite pleasant or judged not to be abnormal at all.”

Well it seems as though Dr. Phillips is someone who does much more than just point-out problems – she aims to do something about them.

Her University of Pittsburgh research team is telling us bipolar disorder, in the near future, will be more accurately diagnosed using a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tension imaging (DTI) – which provides a scan of our brains’ white matter (found in the deeper territories of our brains).

According to Dr. Phillips, brain scans of those enduring depression (unipolar) or bipolar disorder show what she refers to as “functionally coupled” activity in two regions of the brain – the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Well, if you’ve followed chipur for any length of time, you’re very familiar with both. (Oh, and I need to mention how important it is to distinguish unipolar depression from bipolar depression, because they’re often incorrectly diagnosed – leading to all sorts of very icky treatment fallout.)

In comparing the brain functioning of those enduring depression and those enduring bipolar disorder, of note was how easy the two groups could be distinguished by what Phillips calls “a very different and distinct pattern of brain activity.”

And she goes on to suggest if fMRI is to be employed for bipolar disorder diagnostic purposes, the places to look are the right prefrontal cortex and right amygdala. If there are functioning abnormalities observed, Phillips says bipolar disorder is the likely diagnosis.

So is this very cool, or what? Think of how far we’ve come. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to explain to clients, family members, and significant others that the emotional and mental disorders aren’t yet diagnosable in the lab or by imaging. And the utter frustration and disappointment on their faces was hard to take-in.

But it looks as though more satisfying days are just ahead. Nice.

What do you think of such cutting-edge and promising news? Your thoughts and feelings will help us all if you’ll share in a comment…