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Major depression or bipolar? EKG may help determine diagnosis accurately

An EKG can help distinguish if a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.

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If you compare a depressive phase of bipolar disorder and major depression, you’ll notice they are quite identical. This results in misdiagnosis and delay in proper treatment.

A new study, however, published in World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, might help physicians reduce misdiagnosis between the two disorders simply by conducting an electrocardiogram or EKG.

A team of researchers, led by Angelos Halaris, MD, Ph.D. of Loyola University, recruited 64 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and 37 patients with bipolar disorder (BD) — all adults.

The patients had their heart rate variability measured, as researchers indicated this is what helped differentiate between both disorders.

Researchers concluded that MDD patients had “significantly higher baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia and LF-HRV” when compared to the BD sample. Additionally, BD patients saw drastically higher baseline levels of IL-10 and MCP-1 than the MDD sample.

“Reduced vagal tone and higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers may distinguish BD from MDD and reveal an underlying pathophysiology of depression involving ANS dysfunction and chronic immune system dysregulation,” the study found.

The results of the study were promising and possibly a breakthrough for psychiatry. But more research is still needed to evaluate the findings’ clinical significance, Dr. Halaris asserted.

“Having a noninvasive, easy-to-use and affordable test to differentiate between major depression and bipolar disorder would be a major breakthrough in both psychiatric and primary care practices.”

Major depression is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in the US, affecting about 14.8 million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults in the US.

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