Brain Scans May Redefine How Doctors Diagnose Depression

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By Fattima Mahdi

Brain scans that pinpoint the right medication for each patient may soon be a viable way to treat patients with depression. As it stands, doctors rely on a symptom history and have to treat patients through trial-and-error methods which are time-consuming. As it stands less than 40 percent of patients get better with the first treatment they try. “There isn’t a brain or a blood test available to decide which patient should get which treatment. Start with one treatment, if that doesn’t work, which is true in 70-80% of patients, then we go with the second treatment,” explains Maduhkar Trivedi, Professor Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

If researchers are able to find patterns of brain activity that reveal subtypes among depressed patients then this may revolutionise how depression is diagnosed.  “We’ll see brain scan information help patients in three to five years,” said Dr. Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “We’re going to have precision psychotherapy the way we have precision cancer treatment.”

“We’re trying to push the field so we can move away from the symptoms to the pathology,” said Mayberg.

So, how does it work? Well, first the doctors use an EEG to record electrical activity in the brain. The activity is then mapped to a specific treatment protocol. “This looks at brain activity in different parts of the brain, and we found a region of the brain called the rostral anterior cingulate. Elevated activity in that region initiated a high likelihood of response to the SSRI sertraline, or Zoloft,” says Trivedi. “Just like many other medical illnesses, this provides us with the signature that ties a patient to a particular treatment.”

Such an advancement in medical practices could redefine depression and help doctors target treatment. The EEG brain scans could lead to better diagnoses which can help people find the right treatment quickly.

Image Credit:: mrspopman / 123RF Stock Photo

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