New research shows that blood tests may also help diagnose depression, in addition to physical and mental health exams.

From examining your symptoms, discussing your medical history, and going through a series of physical and mental health tests, diagnosing depression can often be a lengthy process. But what if there was a simpler way to determine whether you have depression? Some studies suggest there might be.

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects nearly 280 million people around the world. Common symptoms include:

  • feeling sad or withdrawn
  • losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • fatigue
  • changes in your sleep or eating habits
  • weight fluctuations
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • body pains
  • negative thoughts

However, there are several other mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder, that share many of the same symptoms and can be easily mistaken for depression. This can make the process of diagnosing depression even more challenging because a mental health professional will need to eliminate those other conditions as possible causes for how you’re feeling.

To help speed up and simplify this process, experts have been exploring the use of blood tests for diagnosing depression and other mental health concerns. While this research is still new and isn’t a definite way to detect depression through lab testing, initial findings look promising.

In general, lab tests are used to rule out other conditions that may present similarly to depression, rather than detecting depression itself. For example, certain thyroid disorders and vitamin D deficiency share some of the same symptoms as depression and can be detected through testing.

Recent studies, however, suggest that blood tests may be useful in diagnosing depression.

In a recent study, researchers built upon previous work that examined levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the blood that influences memory and learning, in people with certain mood disorders.

Lower levels of mature BDNF (mBDNF) were found in participants with depression and bipolar disorder. In addition, it was found that in some cases, mBDNF levels were lower for those reporting severe symptoms than those reporting more moderate symptoms.

While current blood tests can’t conclusively use low mBDNF levels to diagnose depression, it provides a strong direction for further research.

Another study also suggests that blood tests may be the future of depression detection.

Instead of BDNF levels, this study focused on how low levels of an enzyme called ethanolamine phosphate may be linked to major depressive disorder (MDD) in adults. Results showed that phosphate level blood tests were able to correctly diagnose depression 82% of the time.

While these findings are promising, more research is still needed. Blood tests may be able to help with a diagnosis, but they’re not currently a substitute for an expert’s evaluation.

Working with medical and mental health professionals can help provide you with a more accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan specifically tailored to your needs.

Lab tests are very effective at ruling out or uncovering other health conditions, like detecting specific nutritional deficiencies that may cause depression.

It’s important to explore all the possibilities when diagnosing depression and other mental and physical health conditions. Many other conditions can mimic depression, and some can even cause depression as a symptom or side effect.

Your doctor may perform a blood test to determine if a physical condition is at play. This will help them home in on what you’re experiencing and help you determine the right course of treatment for your symptoms.

Common physical conditions with similar symptoms as depression include:

  • thyroid disorders
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • low blood sugar
  • dehydration
  • caffeine withdrawal
  • certain heart conditions
  • certain cancers

Blood tests can also help determine any nutritional deficiencies you may have, such as low levels of certain vitamins and nutrients that could point toward depression and other mood disorders.

Common deficiencies associated with depression include:

  • Vitamin D. Evidence suggests that those with depression may have lower levels of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin B12. A recent study found that not getting enough vitamin B12 in your everyday diet can put you at a higher risk for depression.
  • Folate. Research has linked folate deficiencies with depression and other mental health disorders.
  • Zinc, magnesium, and selenium. A 2018 review found that there may be a possible relationship between low levels of these three nutrients and depression.

Depression can also be mistaken for other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or bipolar disorder.

Depression affects millions of people around the globe, but it can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions that have similar symptoms.

Because low levels of certain vitamins, proteins, and enzymes are often associated with depression, developing blood tests to measure these levels may help in ultimately detecting depression. However, despite the progress seen through recent studies, there isn’t yet a lab test that can accurately and definitively diagnose depression.

If you’ve been feeling down or think that you may be experiencing depression, consider speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional. They can talk with you, provide a diagnosis, and help you plan a path to recovery.

Your doctor might recommend a blood test to help determine the source of your symptoms and to rule out any other conditions, especially if you have a family history of physical health concerns.

Depression, or a condition with similar symptoms, can be difficult to manage alone, but it’s important to remember that professional help and treatments are available and with some time and patience, you can start to feel better.