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We're One Step Closer To A Blood Test That Can Diagnose Anxiety

Francesca Bond
By Francesca Bond
mbg Contributor
Francesca Bond is a freelance writer, newspaper reporter, and film photographer. She writes about fashion and culture in her newsletter, things i probably wrote in caffe aroma. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Doctor Checking Patient's Blood Pressure
Image by Eddie Pearson / Stocksy

Nearly everyone worries from time to time, particularly when facing stressful situations. But for some people, anxiety can be chronic and debilitating. New research outlines a way to diagnose anxiety via a blood test in order to help connect people to more effective therapies to manage it.

What our blood tells us about our mental health.

A key to understanding our mental health may be running through our blood. Researchers from Indiana School of Medicine say they've developed a new method to diagnose anxiety and help pinpoint effective therapies—all via a blood test.

A research team led by Alexander Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D., set out to develop an objective way to assess anxiety. Anxiety disorders are currently underdiagnosed, which can negatively affect the lives of those who live with them. Current methods for diagnosing anxiety include assessing a person's thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors, which study authors say is insufficient and can result in people living with anxiety for years before receiving a diagnosis and treatment.

In a statement to the Indiana School of Medicine, Niculescu notes that people with undiagnosed anxiety may also mistake symptoms of a panic attack for those of a heart attack, ending up in the emergency room. And some medications commonly used to treat anxiety can be addictive and have troubling side effects.

"Many people are suffering from anxiety, which can be very disabling and interfere with daily life," said Niculescu. "The current approach is to talk to people about how they feel to see if they could be on medications, but some medications can be addictive and create more problems. We wanted to see if our approach to identify blood biomarkers could help us match people to existing medications that will work better and could be a non-addictive choice."

Niculescu has already developed blood tests to diagnose and identify treatments for depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and pain. He used his previous research to inform his study on anxiety and analyze genetic biomarkers in the study participants' blood. 

Study participants got a blood test every three to six months, or whenever hospitalized. Researchers then examined their blood, identifying a person's current state of anxiety and their risk of experiencing higher anxiety levels in the future. 

Niculescu told Indiana University School of Medicine that he hopes the blood test for anxiety can be used in conjunction with other blood tests he has developed to help people get a comprehensive look at their mental health.

"Overall, this work is a major step forward toward better understanding, diagnosing, and treating anxiety disorders," said the study's authors. "We hope that our trait biomarkers for future risk may be useful in preventive approaches, before the full-blown disorder manifests itself (or re-occurs)."

How to manage anxiety. 

One in three people will experience anxiety at some point in their life. Hopefully, this research will make treatment for severe anxiety disorders more readily available to those who need them in the near future.

If you suffer from anxiety, here are five signs that seeing a therapist may be helpful. For those with mild or occasional anxiety, these expert-backed strategies can help you manage it:

  • Be mindful of your thinking. Anxiety can cause your thoughts to spiral, taking you down a rabbit hole of "what-ifs." Grounding yourself in the present moment and engaging in an activity such as cooking, walking, deep breathing, or working on a puzzle can help your brain calm down
  • See, smell, hear, touch, and taste. Engaging with your five senses can help regulate your emotions when you're feeling stressed. Clinical psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP, suggests using your senses to take in something calming, such as looking at nature or listening to an audiobook to soothe anxious feelings.
  • Admit you're not in control of everything. Letting go of what you can’t control is often much easier said than done, yet it's also effective in calming a never-ending thought train of worry. Some things simply are out of our control, and worrying about them can take energy away from dealing with the things that we can control. Elissa Epel, Ph.D., psychologist and stress researcher, suggests sorting worries that you can and can't control into two separate categories, then working on letting go of situations that fall into the latter category to focus on what really matters. 
  • Add supplements to your routine. Vetted supplements with quality ingredients can help promote relaxation and ease stress. Look for science-backed ingredients such as hemp, ashwagandha, or rhodiola when choosing a supplement that's right for you. Here are science-backed supplements to look into

The takeaway.

Researchers have found a way to diagnose anxiety via a blood test, which could help people find out about their risk of experiencing anxiety before it manifests in more severe ways, as well as help medical professionals identify effective treatment options that would improve their quality of life

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