Diagnosing bipolar disorder is a challenge. There are no tests to distinguish this psychiatric condition from others, and a doctor has to depend primarily on the history that the patient and the family give – which isn’t always accurate. For this reason, it’s not surprising that it can take months to years to arrive at the diagnosis. Of course, this is frustrating for both doctor and patient – and even after the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made, it could turn out to be inaccurate since this condition can mimic other psychiatric and non-psychiatric conditions.
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder: What the Heck is Bipolar Disorder Anyway?
Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric disease characterized by symptoms of depression alternating with periods of elevated mood. When a person with bipolar disorder is “up,” they experience feelings of elation and euphoria along with hyperactive, manic behavior – thus, the term manic depression which is sometimes used to refer to this condition. When they’re “down,” they experience loss of energy and motivation, lack of appetite, and marked feelings of inadequacy.
In severe cases, a person suffering from bipolar disorder may be delusional where they have a distorted vision of reality. These mood extremes usually cycle back and forth. One of the greatest dangers of this condition is the risk of suicide during the depressive phase of the illness.
A New Way to Diagnose Bipolar Disorder
The diagnosis of bipolar disorder could soon be easier to make. According to a study presented at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh, a MRI scan of the head may allow doctors to diagnose bipolar disorder more accurately.
Researchers have discovered that people dealing with bipolar disorder have abnormal activity in two regions of the brain – the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex. When they scanned both people with bipolar disorder as well as those with depression, they found two distinct patterns of brain activity. Distinguishing bipolar disorder from depression can be challenging, so this could make the diagnosis of bipolar disorder easier and more accurate.
Researchers propose using a combination of two different MRI scans, Diffusion Tension Imaging and Functional MRI, to diagnosis bipolar disorder. This gives two different sources of information which would allow a more accurate evaluation. Previously, MRI has been used primarily to rule out other abnormalities that can masquerade as bipolar disorder such as brain tumors, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.
MRI to Diagnose Bipolar Disorder: The Bottom Line
This special head MRI technique could provide additional sources of information that are useful for diagnosing bipolar disorder, while ruling out other conditions. Plus, a head MRI is safe and doesn’t involve exposure to radiation. Hopefully, doctors will soon be able to use this additional study – so the patient can get a speedier diagnosis and the medical attention they deserve.