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Is There a Bipolar Disorder Test?


Updated June 29, 2009

Question: Is There a Bipolar Disorder Test?
Answer: A lot of people would love for there to be a bipolar disorder test. It would be so simple to give a blood sample and have the results come back yes or no. But the truth is, there are no physical tests for bipolar disorder - yet.

As we reported back in March 2008, a company called Psynomics offers a saliva-based bipolar disorder test kit (you return it to them for testing) that they say can determine whether you have two genetic mutations that are associated with bipolar disorder. But this is hardly a true bipolar disorder test. Researchers have identified more than two genes that are involved in mood disorders. The best this test can do is tell you whether you have a couple of additional reasons to believe or seek a diagnosis.

However, there is research underway that may someday lead to a more substantial bipolar disorder test. For example, work is being done at the Indiana School of Medicine to identify blood biomarkers (active genes in blood samples) associated not just with mood disorders, but with high and low moods. Using biomarkers, a group of researchers was successful in predicting high mood 85% of the time and low mood 77% of the time.

Another group at the University of Chicago published a study finding that "clock genes" may be correlated with a susceptibility to bipolar disorder. These are genes that affect things like your sleep/wake cycle, at what times of the day you get hungry, etc.

The future of bipolar disorder testing may likely lie in the field of genetics. But genetic testing is controversial. Troubling and complex legal and social issues will arise regarding virtually all genetic tests, including those for a condition like bipolar disorder.

If there were a bipolar disorder test, would you want yourself, a loved one, your child, to be tested? Many people might say yes, I'd want testing done if I or my loved one already showed symptoms of bipolar disorder. But what if there were no symptoms? Would you test your symptom-free child, for example? Might you ask someone you were dating seriously, whose mother was manic-depressive, to be tested before deciding whether to marry him or her?

There may one day be tests to determine the diagnosis or susceptibility to bipolar disorder. The question is whether that will that cause more problems than it solves.


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