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Science Technology

Anxiety Disorders Discoverable by Blood Test 407

Tomer Yaffe writes to tell us that researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have discovered a technique to diagnose anxiety disorders with a simple blood test. From the article: "The researchers hope that the anxiety blood test will soon make its way into hospitals and E.R. rooms and give doctors and psychiatrists a quick and precise tool for examining, and eventually treating, these disorders." The team has also set their sights on depression, hoping for a similar technique to detect these types of disorders as well.
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Anxiety Disorders Discoverable by Blood Test

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  • My only worry (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ( 782137 ) <> on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:09PM (#13759454) Homepage Journal
    My only worry about this is that some people might just be feeling shitty, and wouldn't want to submit to a blood test. What if a person says they're anxious/depressed, but the blood test says otherwise? What do doctors believe?

    In any event, it'd probably be better if doctors got to work on making some antidepressants with less overt side effects before they learn to diagnose it...I mean I've just started taking Prozac, and already I'm getting headaches, and the leaflet with the pills has a whole lot more side effects to watch out for.
  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:09PM (#13759455)
    While I'm not a doctor, a lot of the most anxious people I know are heavy consumers of caffeine. They're the sort of people who drink three cups in the morning, followed by a Coke while at work, and then another cup of coffee and a chocolate bar snack on the way home, followed by a couple of cups of tea with dinner. And then they can't sleep, so they need to repeat the cycle again the next day, for years on end.

    The was one fellow I worked with, Trent, who was in that cycle, and was always very anxious and irritable. He eventually decided to just cut out caffeine completely. So he started drinking fruit juices instead of coffee, water instead of Coke. He stopped eating chocolate. And soon after dropping caffeine from his diet he found he was able to concentrate more, was far more efficient at work, and was a whole lot less anxious.

    So perhaps a good way to eliminate some forms of anxiousness is to stop consuming caffeine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:16PM (#13759514)
    Interesting to see that they found a correlation between acetylcholine / acetylcholinesterase and anxiety disorders. It goes to show that the physical symptoms aren't just "in your head". Those two chemicals regulate the nervous system. You'll see that most nerve agents, such as VX, are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.

    I would like to see someone take this new information and conduct another study of the people suffering from Gulf War syndrome - both with physical weakness and mental / anxiety problems. I bet they would discover that many of them were either exposed to a nerve agent or an antidote on some level. It's sad that so many veterans are suffering and our government has made no real effort to help them.
  • Re:As a psychologist (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sabaco ( 92171 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:18PM (#13759533) Homepage Journal
    And in my studied opinion, THAT is the most prevalent misconception in the field. Knowing their is a biological component to their illness helps patients realize it's not just them, they aren't just crazy or imagining it, and helps them work on it from a much stronger position.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:20PM (#13759543)
    Until now they typically diagnose by asking you some questions ("do you have thoughts of suicide? do you sleep ok?" etc.). If you're having a bad day or have your shit-colored glasses on for some other reason, it will color your responses.

    And then they try you on some anti-depressant and ask you the same questions 2 months later to see if it's working. If it's not working, they switch to another medication, rinse and repeat.

    This is seriously lame, and in the case of depression, might easily cause you to give up. A blood test would go a long way toward addressing this -- especially if it gives any clues about which medications are more likely to work.
  • Re:As a psychologist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frothy Walrus ( 534163 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:22PM (#13759560)
    Yes, but it just as strongly provides a cop-out mechanism with which the patient may absolve herself of her responsibility to recover. Besides, the science of measuring changes in brain and blood chemistry, then these changes for mood swings concurrent with the change, is shaky at best. It will be a long time before humans fully understand neuro- and bio-chemistry and how they relate to the psyche, and until that day I am more than happy to keep my patients in the dark about it.
  • by earache ( 110979 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:28PM (#13759604) Homepage
    Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

    I wish this test had been around when I blew my top a few times and ended up in the emergency room. Each visit resulted in a different hypothesis on what was wrong with me, from dehydration to renault's syndrome.

    The shit is scary enough when you have no idea what is wrong with you. For most anxiety sufferers, the first half dozen of earthquake sized panic attacks are almost always assumed to be physical problems. I believe I had brain cancer, lung cancer, intestinal cancer, heart problems, etc. Had I been shown a test result that read anxiety, I would have saved a lot of additional anxiety worrying about whether or not my ticker was going to go at any given moment.

    Good news.

  • The Value Here is... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dslauson ( 914147 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:33PM (#13759642) Journal
    Many people (like Tom Cruise) consider psychology to be a pseudoscience. However, if we can come up with definitive tests with concrete results in order to diagnose patients with mental illnesses, it makes psychology that much more closely resemble the rest of the world of medicine. This will (hopefully) make people realize that there is a real science behind it.

    I know that if my son was diagnosed with ADD, I would feel much more comfortable having him treated with ritalin or whatever if the doctor had a blood test (or something more concrete than "He's all fidgety in class") to back it up.
  • by Frangible ( 881728 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:33PM (#13759643)

    Actually, exercise does increase the dopaminergic tone in the brain, the mechanism involved is a short-lived change in gene expression that upregulates calcium transport. It has also been shown to increase the number of dopamine receptors in animal models.

    This is relevant because the common mechanism of effect behind SSRI-based antidepressants involves the sensitization of the dopaminergic system via increased serotonin levels. Some antidepressant medication actually has no direct interaction with sertonin at all.

    This [] study shows an effectiveness of 50% of the use of exercise in relieving symptoms of depression, which is approximately that of antidepressant medication or cognitive behavioral therapy alone. Of course, it is likely the best results would come from a combination of all three.

  • Re:As a psychologist (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nilesh_tms ( 680889 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:42PM (#13759708) Homepage Journal
    As someone who has experienced and recovered from a psychosomatic disorder (in my case what I thought was "repetitive strain injury"), I tend to agree that sometimes its better that patient doesn't know about physical evidence. The mind is clever enough to create painful symptoms where it knows there are structural abnormalities, even though those structural abnormalities don't cause pain. Read "The Mindbody Prescription" by John Sarno if you're interested in what I'm talking about here (or Google "sarno tms" or check out this document [])

    In this case, I don't really know much about the discovery, so maybe it doesn't apply, but this is what worries me: ok, so anxiety disorders can be detected in the bloodstream. But what is the cause? It can still be something that is purely psychological and something that could potentially be fixed through psychological approaches. Maybe the evidence in the bloodstream is the result of anxiety disorders, but the anxiety disorder itself is still psychological. The mind is capable of making changes to the body in pretty incredible ways (I've experienced this first hand), this isn't really too surprising.

    What worries me about this is that this will give people the concept that there is something actually physically/chemically wrong with them that they were born with that they can't fix. They will start to think it is a chronic problem that won't go away, and they just have to live with it, which just leads to using medicine to alleviate the symptoms, rather that going after cause. Maybe it actually is something physically/chemically wrong (an idea I'm very skeptical about after my own experiences), but I'd imagine there is significant number of people who have experienced anxiety who don't have any such physically/chemically problems.

    Interesting discovery nonetheless, but interpretting what it actually means is probably more interesting.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:52PM (#13759772)
    This is 100% correct. I suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder mixed in with anxiety and there is an inherent component of the "disorder" that would keep you from getting help in the first place. Some number of people with true paranoia or strong enough anxiety would not want to contact anyone for help in the first place. As avoidance, being worried about the interaction, denying any actual problem, etc.

    Then when you get to taking blood or DNA collection... Jesus. I have enough worries just thinking about medical records, anything written down about me that has the potential to be used against me, especially considering the sorry state of any type of security and the ability of others to gain access to that information through various means.

    The paranoid definitely are a group that rarely seeks out "help", this is clear from the DSM and other sources (very few PPD individuals seek treatment compared to other "disorders"), and I can testify first hand that the idea of blood being collected from me, or submitting myself to urine tests or the like certainly is something I would avoid.

    (open /. back up for Tor!)
  • by JhohannaVH ( 790228 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:53PM (#13759787) Journal
    As a survivor, of both cognitive and pharma therapies together and seperate.... thank you for posting this. A lot. You have no idea. You've helped me a lot.... because you said a lot of things there that are very true, and that I need to remember. I quit going to BT, because it wasn't working. She kept saying the same things about screwed up relationships, past traumas, blah blah blah... but she would never give me any answers or strengths on how to deal with the real issues that I have. It did take her 4 months to convince me to go on meds, and another 4 months of therapy before I (and my insurance company) decided it was not working.

    Since then, I've been focusing on making a lot of progress on my own, and have been doing well. But my mistrust in psychiatric professionals is shaken once again. Especially when said shrink calls and bitches me out for missing an appointment that was set 6 months ago, and was in another calendar at another JOB (that I no longer have, and that my NEW insurance won't cover. So what? He sent me a bill and didn't renew my prescription. So now, in order to that, I have to pay him his $250 bucks an hour (of which I get 10 minutes), and listen to him talk about his support for the gay boys of SD. *BARF* All so I can get him to renew a drug that I KNOW and can prove is working, combatting my anxiety and fears, so that I can learn to better face them on my own. :)

  • Re:As a psychologist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Omestes ( 471991 ) <omestes@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Monday October 10, 2005 @05:54PM (#13759794) Homepage Journal
    As an ex-student of psychology I see where your coming from, BUT disagree on principled grounds. I do not think that lying or concealing aspects of ones condition is ethical, EVER. Sure, some preparation and ground work might be needed before revealing the aspects of ones condition is full is a good idea, but this knowledge should ALWAYS be bestowd on one, since one does, in fact, OWN ones condition, it is a part of their being, and thus they should be entitled to know. If one purposely conceals facts about a person from them, you are putting yourself in a contrived state of "godhood" above them, you are more important than them, as related to their being. In a way you are dehumanizing or objectifying them. While your stance has bigger practical benefits, it is an ethical problem. Ethics should always come above and first, and solutions must be shaped around your principles.

    Yes, the problem/solution should and is on the patients shoulders. And a genetic cause can be a crutch to those who know nothing of the mutability of genetics in real life. It is then YOUR responsibility to show this, and present them with the full truth of their situation. Anything else is disingenuous.

    If you can't tell, I fled psychology for philosophy because of the inherent errors involved in modern psychology that most take as given.
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @06:04PM (#13759869) Homepage Journal
    I agree that it's great news (if true), but I think "acknowledgment" is the least of our issues. I don't think there's that much resistance to acknowledging that a condition can be psychiatric. If anything, I think people (especially MDs who are having trouble pinning down a diagnosis with cognitive or behavioral symptoms) are too quick to label disorders with a convenient psychiatric labels. After all, concepts like "anxiety", "depression" and "attention deficit" (to name three of the most common labels) are pretty vague. Plus, they name issues that everybody has — some people just have them more than others.

    In theory, there are neurochemical abnormalities behind all the above conditions. Which is probably true (at least for most people with these labels), but which is almost never verified in clinical practice. What they do now is "rule out" alternative non-psychiatric conditions, and then when they're stumped, they label it psychiatric. Which I guess works most of the time — but every once in a while you get somebody diagnosed with "depression" when they actually suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, or some other toxicity the primary physician forgot to check for.

    (A side note about terminology: to most people "depression" means, "extremely sad". But to psychiatrists, "depression" means "depressed mental function". The two kind of go together, but "clinical depression" is not a fancy way of saying "you need to cheer up." And of course "depressed mental function" is a symptom of a lot of conditions!)

    I once knew a psychiatrist who thought that every diagnosis of "depression" should be verified with a PET scan []. Fiendishly expensive, but nothing compared to the huge costs of antidepressant prescriptions and talk therapy. But the idea is unlikely to catch on. Indeed a lot of "depression" doesn't even get a proper psychiatric diagnosis. Instead some internist whose HMO only lets him have 15 minutes per patient says, "Well, you say you don't feel good, but I can't find anything wrong with you. Maybe you're depressed? Let's try some Zoloft and see how you do." Having a simple chemical test would make things a tad more rigorous.

    It would also help mental illness get proper insurance coverage. Insurance companies don't like covering it, because it doesn't fit in their bureaucratic model. A simple, inexpensive test would make a lot of difference there.

  • Re:As a psychologist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10, 2005 @07:06PM (#13760233)
    Right on! This course of treatment (or rather several courses) has helped me greatly. Cognitive therapy works!! Of course handing a patient a Prozac perscription and a copy of "Feeling Good" is all some health plans will cover. It takes time and the help of a talented person to really make changes in your life.

    I wish you well in your studies and your practice.
  • by njh ( 24312 ) on Monday October 10, 2005 @07:50PM (#13760479) Homepage
    I agree that a robust test for these diseases are important, but I have two concerns. Firstly, existing pharma treatments for anxiety are basically useless - consisting of chemically hitting the patient on the head repeatedly until they are too concussed to know whether they are anxious or not. The current trend is to prescribe various 'anti-depressants', which have no conclusive evidence that they work better than placebo, and leave the patient on them for weeks at a time.

    Secondly, this blood test means that a new symptomatic treatment is likely to be developed. The pharma companies will design a drug which nullifies the effect measured with the blood test, and will then proclaim loudly that they have cured anxiety. And sell lots of lifetime supplies of some random chemical with no useful effect.

    Incidently, I spent a year with GAD treated with the usual pointless chemicals before curing myself with kava, reliable sleep and CBT. Kava is fantastic for anxiety, btw - it is not habit forming, has a noticable effect within half an hour and gives you wonderful lucid dreams :) Pity it is banned from sale in most countries.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10, 2005 @10:43PM (#13761385)
    I have Social Anxiety Disorder as well, but I'm finding getting help here in Australia pretty difficult. Our government is fairly miserable when it comes to mental health services.

    I guess I need to hurry up, graduate, and get a good job so I can afford the huge sums of money for a psychologist...

    I've lived with it for 8 years, what's a few more?
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @12:01AM (#13761986) Homepage Journal
    My point is that where you have an environmental factor, you SHOULD be treating the environment. Where genes are a problem, treat the genes (or the effects thereof). Where the brain chemistry is a problem, alter the chemistry. And so on.

    Typically, a hostile environment will result in the brain chemistry becoming wacked-out. At that point, just altering the environment will no longer be effective - all you're doing is not making the problem worse, but you're not correcting it. However, just treating the brain chemistry won't help either - you'll temporarily fix things, but they'll eventually slide back downhill. You'll constantly have to add more and more of an offset, just to keep pace, and eventually the body will become resistant or die of an overdose.

    The correct cure, in such a case, is to remedy the environment (or how the person interacts with it) PLUS medicine to offset the changes to the brain, possibly also some counselling to understand the errors in perception caused by the environment and/or brain chemistry.

    What won't help is someone telling you it's all your fault. (If you know better, it's useless information and if you don't, it'll make things worse.) What is needed is not blame but perspective, some sort of solid ground you can aim for, and some plan of action on how to get there.

    Another poster suggested I was a scientologist! What a laugh! They've no perspective at all! Anyone who can say that brain chemistry is never an issue is deluding themselves and others. Virtually every experience we have will alter our brain chemistry in some way, and if that way is harmful and becomes semi-permanent - or even permanent - then you will need to take medication to counteract that.

    Brain chemistry rarely alters itself (although that does happen), so if you need medicines, there's an excellent chance that you'll need something else to deal with whatever caused the problem in the first place.

    Does therapy have a place? Yes - but it's down the list. You might go to a physiotherapist after breaking bones severely in an accident to retrain your coordination. But you wouldn't go until AFTER receiving treatment for your injuries and AFTER your bones are mended. Bleeding to death on the physiotherapist's floor isn't going to help you very much.

    ONCE you've got the underlying issues taken care of well enough for you to be able to have perspective (it doesn't have to be perfect, you just have to not be dead) THEN therapy makes sense. If you can't have perspective, all you're doing is wasting time and money. Therapy relies on you wanting to change, but you can't have a want if you aren't in a position to choose.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?