Could an MRI scan diagnose Bipolar Disorder?

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According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, a study using MRI scans has shown that there is a very different and distinct pattern of brain activity between people suffering from bipolar disorder and those suffering from ordinary depression or unipolar.

“If there’s a plan to do just one MRI in the future to try to decide whether someone has bipolar or depression, I’d suggest focussing the right pre-frontal cortex” said Professor Mary Phillips, professor of psychiatry and director of the Clinical and Translational Affective Neuroscience Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

“If there is any abnormality in functioning between the right and pre-frontal cortex and right Amygdala, the chances are that the person has bipolar” she said.

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder is currently based on self reported experiences and observation of the individual’s behaviour.

Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression and some sufferers have had to wait months or even years for an accurate diagnosis. There is currently no diagnostic test that can detect whether someone has bipolar disorder or not and if there was, it could prevent much unnecessary suffering and even suicide.

“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” said professor Phillips.

“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” she said.

Biploar disorder or manic depression is characterised by episodes of mania or hypomania and depressive episodes with periods of normal mood in between. Some sufferers also experience psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Bipolar has also been associated with high levels of creativity.

The disorder usually starts to manifest in late adolescence or early adulthood and persists for a lifetime. There is no cure. Around one in one hundred people are believed to be suffering from Bipolar Disorder.

According to Professor Phillips, future tests using MRI could predict whether a young person showing no symptoms of bipolar disorder is going to develop bipolar disorder at a later date.

This could help those who have a history of bipolar disorder in their family find out early on if they are going to develop it too and get the help and support they need before they actually develop any symptoms.

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1 Comment

  1. delbert
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    my wife has the real bipolar most people they call bipolar don’t have it they want to get a ssi check my wife worked 30 years with bipolar when she stop her med she would flip out your not disable with bip0olar got to take the med they found her bipolar with a M R I

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