Dominion Hospital - December 16, 2019

Researchers are closing in on a host of helpful blood tests. Here’s the latest developments.

When you’re running a fever and feeling bad, your doctor will request lab tests to help determine what’s making you ill. A simple blood test can pinpoint the diagnosis and help your doctor prescribe the best treatment. But symptoms of mental illness are far more complex to diagnose and treat so researchers are working to develop clinical tests diagnose depression and determine the best treatment.

If you struggle with depression or know someone who does, this news is huge. Seeking treatment and help is the first step towards recovery – one that those suffering with depression symptoms often find difficult because their condition has left them tired, disinterested or feeling defeated. Knowing that a doctor or clinic can run blood tests to help kick-start recovery is a game changer.

But is it here now? Researchers have found some promising results:

  • Scientists have identified biomarkers for depression and other mental illnesses BUT these markers overlap with multiple tissues and key biochemical and cellular processes in brain and body, making it impossible for a single test to accurately diagnose all patients.
  • Research has determined that your baseline CRP, a marker of inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other disorders, can be used to predict depression treatment success with and without medication to reduce inflammation.
  • This test is available as a finger prick
  • People with severe depression may have particularly low blood levels of acetyl-L-carnitine or LAC, an amino acid produced by the body that is involved in brain function.
  • LAC is sold as a dietary supplement but is not currently FDA-certified for treating depression or any other condition.

Doctors routinely use blood tests to rule out medical conditions that may cause symptoms of depression or even contribute to depression, such as anemia, thyroid disease or a vitamin D deficiency. They also use series of questions or a questionnaire to screen for depression, along with a detailed medical history and a discussion of your mood and how it impacts your daily life.

Current screening questions rely on the patient to honestly and accurately report their symptoms and feelings. The problem with these methods is that what feels abnormal or bad varies greatly from person to person. Millions of people with depression suffer needlessly because they don't get professional help, starting with a doctor's diagnosis.

Your doctor probably uses some basic screening questions to assess your mental health during routine or annual exams. If you find you’re not feeling right – or suddenly lose interest in family and friends, work or a hobby, it’s time to return to your doctor and ask about depression. If you’ve already been diagnosed with depression and have been prescribed a treatment that doesn’t seem to be working, ask about additional testing to match your depression to the right treatment.

Wondering if you are at risk for depression? Take Dominion Hospital’s confidential and free online Depression Risk Assessment.

Dominion Hospital, in Northern Virginia, has a track record of helping adults with common mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety and co-occurring substance abuse. You can call our First Step counselors 24/7 at (703) 538‑2872 to get started or visit our website.