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Is it Bipolar or Depression? New Brain Scan May Have the Answer

Is it Bipolar or Depression? New Brain Scan May Have the AnswerA new type of brain scan that measures blood flow in the brain may be able to help better diagnose bipolar disorder at an early stage and further distinguish the disorder from depression, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.

Bipolar disorder causes unusual shifts in mood, energy and activity levels and hinders the ability to carry out basic tasks. The disorder is characterized by mood swings that range from severe depression to very elevated or irritable moods.  It is difficult to diagnose and is often misdiagnosed as clinical depression.

For the study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers evaluated 44 females. Eighteen of the participants had bipolar-I disorder, 18 had clinical depression (also known as major depressive disorder), and 18 were healthy individuals who acted as a control group.

The female participants were all experiencing a depressive episode as they were being assessed for the study.

The new imaging method used during the study is known as “arterial spin labeling.”  It was designed to non-invasively measure blood flow in brain regions associated with depression.

The researchers discovered it could identify with over 80 percent accuracy which women were depressed and which women had bipolar depression.

They also used a novel analytical method called “pattern recognition analysis” that allows researchers to individualize brain differences.

Only one in five patients with bipolar disorder is properly diagnosed when first evaluated by a doctor, with an accurate diagnosis sometimes taking up to years.

Finding a correct diagnosis is often difficult for a variety of reasons, including miscommunication between the patient and the doctor. For example, patients with bipolar disorder sometimes interpret manic phases as normal and therefore do not discuss them with their doctors.

The findings also suggest that researchers may be able to predict future bipolar behavior in younger adults who are still symptom free, allowing for earlier and more accurate treatment. Researchers will now test these new technologies in a larger sample and in a multi-center study.

Earlier and more accurate diagnoses can make a significant difference for patients and their families, and may even save lives. This very promising finding reveals the importance of neuro-imaging and its ability to help identify biological markers associated with mental health disorders.

Source:  University of Pittsburgh

Abstract of the brain photo by shutterstock.

Is it Bipolar or Depression? New Brain Scan May Have the Answer

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Is it Bipolar or Depression? New Brain Scan May Have the Answer. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 29 Sep 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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