Simple ECG Can Distinguish Bipolar Disorder From Major Depression

November 21, 2017

MAYWOOD, Ill -- November 21, 2017 -- A simple 15-minute electrocardiogram (ECG) could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder, according to a study published in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.

The study found that heart rate variability, as measured by an ECG, indicated whether subjects had major depression or bipolar disorder.

“Having a noninvasive, easy-to-use and affordable test to differentiate between major depression and bipolar disorder would be a major breakthrough in both psychiatric and primary care practices,” said Angelos Halaris, MD, Loyola University Health System, Maywood, Illinois.

The study included 64 adults with major depression and 37 adults with bipolar disorder. All patients underwent electrocardiograms at the start of the study. Each participant rested comfortably on an exam table while a 3-lead ECG was attached to the chest. After the patient rested for 15 minutes, the ECG data were collected for 15 minutes.

Using a special software package, researchers converted the ECG data into the components of heart rate variability (HRV). These data were further corrected with specialised software programs.

At baseline, patients with major depression had significantly higher respiratory sinus arrhythmia (P = .05) and HRV (P < .01) than those with bipolar disorder.

In a secondary finding, the researchers found that patients with bipolar disorder had higher blood levels of inflammation biomarkers than patients with major depression. Compared with patients with depression, patients with bipolar disorder had significantly higher baseline levels of IL-10 (P < .01) and MCP-1 (P < .01).

“Reduced vagal tone and higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers may distinguish bipolar disorder from major depressive disorder and reveal an underlying pathophysiology of depression involving ANS dysfunction and chronic immune system dysregulation,” the authors concluded.

Reference: DOI: 10.1080/15622975.2017.1376113

SOURCE: Loyola University Health System

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