Clinical depression is a growing world-wide epidemic: 350 million people suffer from it.
Unlike some other illnesses, diagnosis is often not straightforward. Symptoms may be common: loss of appetite (or weight gain), sleeplessness, lethargy, headaches, chronic pain, an inability to concentrate.
Yet symptoms don’t always directly point to an underlying cause. Up until now, there has been no way to test for depression; it is a diagnosis based on an opinion.
New research has found a physiological condition underlying depression that may soon be discovered through a blood test.
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Physiologic indicators in the blood
Scientists at Northwestern University have identified nine RNA markers present in depressed patients that are not found in others. RNA (ribonucleic acid) is similar to DNA but acts as a messenger, transcribing DNA information to cells throughout the body.
In people with depression, nine components of RNA have been found to differ from those not diagnosed with clinical depression. During the course of the three-year study, blood samples were tested at the outset and were compared with those after an eighteen-week period, during which time the patients were treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The study found:
“Abundance of the DGKA, KIAA1539 andRAPH1 transcripts [RNA markers] remained significantly different between subjects with MDD and ND controls even after post-CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] remission…Before CBT, significant co-expression network of specific transcripts existed in MDD [major depressive disorders] subjects who subsequently remitted in response to CBT, but not in those who remained depressed. Thus, blood levels of different transcript panels may identify the depressed from the nondepressed among primary care patients, during a depressive episode or in remission, or follow and predict response to CBT in depressed individuals.”
There are many causes of depression–one of these is heredity. It’s been found that those with a proclivity for depression possess a mutant gene that can manifest in this illness.
That doesn’t mean that if you have a depressed parent you’ll become depressed or that the only people who suffer are those whose families also do.
It does mean that there may be a predisposition that, when faced with chronic stress or trauma, may set off a chain of physiologic reactions that will send you into a downward spiral.
A new definitive diagnostic tool
The blood test suggested will be like any other blood test but will look for different things. If symptoms of depression are present, a qualified professional can review the results of the test and look for the identified markers. If some or all are present, it will confirm diagnosis, provide insight into physiologic and genetic factors, and indicate appropriate treatment.
Depression often goes without diagnosis: those suffering don’t seek care in the belief that either a) it will go away, or b) it is a lost cause (and all the other negative thoughts associated with depression). If one were to know that there is not only a way to definitely diagnose the condition but to effectively treat it, s/he might be more likely to seek help.
People suffering from depression don’t need the brush off of “snap out of it”–they need support, understanding, and care. This illness doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent; with treatment, it can be overcome.