You know I bitch a lot about the science and research associated with mental health in general and bipolar disorder in particular. It seems like I bitch about nearly everything I read in the press. Here are some examples:
I have been told that I have a weak understanding of science and the scientific process. It’s true that I have no degree in any science, not even the “soft” science of psychology. Yet I persist.
Some of my major objections (if you don’t want to read the above-mentioned posts, which I fully understand) include: that article headlines seldom match the stories they’re attached to; that too many qualifiers like “might” and “may” occur in the stories; that the research is still in the rats-and-mice stage, which is a lo-o-o-o-ng way from human trials or public availability; and that many reports contain yes-it-does/no-it-doesn’t debates.
Most of all, I hate “false hope” headlines that I don’t believe will ever trickle down to the bipolar-person-on-the-street. Certainly not in my lifetime, and maybe never. And if they should become available, the cost will be prohibitive. I can’t believe that many of us will have the wherewithal (meaning both access and money) to avail ourselves of the new solutions. I mean, can you really picture the average bipolar patient getting genetic testing or fMRI? Or insurance paying for it?
Then came the headline “Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder” (https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-11/luhs-sec112017.php). Published by Eurekalert! (which, despite its name, appears to be an aggregator of science press releases from sources such as universities and labs around the world), the story reports on work done at Loyola University Health System.
For me, the take-away points are these:
“Bipolar disorder often is misdiagnosed as major depression. But while the symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder are similar to that of major depression, the treatments are different and often challenging for the physician….
“The study found that heart rate variability, as measured by an electrocardiogram, indicated whether subjects had major depression or bipolar disorder….
“Dr. Halaris said further research is needed to confirm the study’s findings and determine their clinical significance.”
And yes, this does feed into my dislike of small studies (under 200 participants) that admit “further research is needed.” But this one, it seems to me, could actually be of some benefit.
Misdiagnosing bipolar disorder as major depressive disorder is a real and perhaps not uncommon thing. I was diagnosed with major depression for decades before a psychiatrist realized I had bipolar disorder. The treatment I got in those decades helped, but the treatments since have helped more.
And I can see a 15-minute, three-lead EKG becoming more available, at least to those of us who still have insurance (a dwindling number, to be sure). In cases like mine, it could save years of incorrect diagnosis and less-than-effective treatment.
Of course, here I am using the hated word “could.” But I take heart from the fact that it is a noninvasive procedure, there are plenty of potential test subjects, the expected resulted is focused on a single, more manageable result – misdiagnosis of one condition – and the test uses a relatively simple, already available technology.
It won’t help me, of course, since I already have my diagnosis, but I think of the people – even people I know – who could benefit from it, and in the not-too-distant future. Would the person who swings from depression to anxiety and doesn’t respond to the usual medications for depression actually have bipolar 2? Would the one who has wide mood swings and a diagnosis of OCD prove to have both, in reality?
Who knows? Not us, at the moment. But in the near future? This time I think there really is hope.