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MRI May Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

July 8, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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Distinguishing between bipolar disorder (BPD) and unipolar (normal) depression can sometimes take years, but is crucial because  treatment for the two conditions differs. Now, a leading researcher reports that even a single MRI brain scan may offer a fast, accurate diagnosis.

Mary L. Phillips, MD, presented her findings at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland, last month. She is professor of psychiatry and director of the Clinical and Translational Affective Neuroscience Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and professor of neuroscience and emotion at the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

Regarding BPD, Dr. Phillips said, “Only one in five sufferers are correctly diagnosed at first presentation to a doctor, and it can take up to 10 years before sufferers receive a correct diagnosis.”

She explained: “The problem is that sufferers frequently fail to tell their doctors about hypomanic phases because they can be experienced as quite pleasant or judged not to be abnormal at all.”

Research at the University of Pittsburgh had shown that BPD may soon be accurately diagnosed with a combination of functional MRI, which scan’s the brain’s neural pathways, and DTI (diffusion tensor imaging), which scan’s the brain’s white matter.

Dr. Phillips conducted a study using MRI to compare brain function in two groups of people, one with BPD and one with depression. She found that the two could be distinguished “by a very different and distinct pattern of brain activity.”

She added: “If there’s a plan to do just one MRI in the future to try to decide whether someone has bipolar or depression, I’d suggest the right prefrontal cortex. If there is any abnormality in functioning between the right and prefrontal cortex and right amygdala, the chances are that the person has bipolar.”

She suggested that MRI scans might also be used to predict the future onset of BPD in young people who have not yet shown symptoms of the disease.

Related seminar: Head To Toe Imaging


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