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 Marcia Purse

Does the Mood Disorder Questionnaire Accurately Screen for Bipolar Disorder?

By November 13, 2009

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Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose. There is currently no definitive medical test for this disorder. Furthermore, there are a number of physical conditions and quite a few psychiatric disorders which present symptoms that can be confused with those of bipolar disorder. And just to complicate things a bit more, a great many psychiatric disorders can occur in tandem.

Mark Zimmerman et al with Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University School of Medicine discuss this in an article, "Performance of the Mood Disorders Questionnaire in a Psychiatric Outpatient Setting," published in the November edition of Bipolar Disorders. "Bipolar disorder is a serious illness resulting in significant psychosocial morbidity and excess mortality. During the past few years a series of research reports, reviews, and commentaries have suggested that bipolar disorder is under recognized, and that many patients, particularly those with major depressive disorder (MDD), have, in fact, bipolar disorder. Even for those patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the lag between initial treatment seeking and the correct diagnosis is often more than 10 years."

To facilitate and improve the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, researchers and practitioners have developed a number of screening questionnaires and assessments. One of these is the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ) developed by a team of psychiatrists, researchers and consumer advocates led by Robert M.A. Hirschfeld with the University of Texas Medical Branch. The MDQ is one of the most commonly used of these assessment tools. You can view the full questionnaire on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website.

Unfortunately there is growing evidence that the utility of the MDQ might not be as strong as is needed for accurately diagnosing bipolar disorder. In the most recent research report about the MDQ, Mark Zimmerman and his team found the results of this questionnaire to be more limited then initial research indicated. "A screening measure needs to have high sensitivity, and each of these three studies found that the sensitivity of the MDQ was less than 70% when the scale was scored according to the developers recommendations."

So what does this mean for us? It means that we shouldn't accept a diagnosis of bipolar disorder based on a brief questionnaire. If your doctor or a therapist uses the MDQ or another similar screening tool, you should simply consider this a starting point towards an accurate diagnosis. Your physician should proceed with a full clinical evaluation for bipolar disorder. How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed? discusses what this process involves. ~Kimberly

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Comments
November 14, 2009 at 10:30 pm
(1) Kat says:

I went for about 25 years with undiagnosed bp1/mixed, job hopping, bad, abusive relationships, losing custody of my children due to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol and much more. I never understood why I was in and out of psychiatric facilities, then turned out back into the same place I started with the orders to “go to meetings”. I finally have the proper diagnosis(es) and have faced an uphill battle because of how sick I was (age 41) I now have alot of time to make up for and learn that I am not as bad of a person that I always thought I was.

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