Doctors Have Found A Way To Detect Depression With MRIs

mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.

Image by TommL / iStock

Depression is a tricky disease, and we are always looking for new ways to treat it or hopefully one day prevent it entirely. Currently, 7% of all adults in the U.S. have suffered from at least one depressive episode in their lives. 

One of the things that makes major depressive disorder so hard to treat is that there is so much unknown about what causes it and what forms of treatment are most effective. According to Kenneth Wengler, Ph.D., researcher at Columbia University, "With current treatments, there is a large chance of relapse or recurrence. To develop new, more effective treatments, we must improve our understanding of the disorder."

A new study presented this week at the Annual Conference for the Radiological Society of North America, Wengler's research team identified a novel way that depression can be detected with MRIs.  

A new type of MRI.

The research team set out to study the effects of a new type of MRI that they developed themselves, one with the ability to measure the amount of water that moves across the blood-brain barrier. The team selected 28 participants to go through the MRI: 14 who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and 14 who had not been as a control.

Results from the brain scans showed reduced water permeability across the group with MDD, indicating a key element of the blood-brain barrier that plays a role in the disorder.

These results contribute to a better understanding overall of the brain chemistry of major depressive disorder. Not only can these MRIs be used to identify people with MDD, but these new findings will lead to more research on how to adjust the brain chemistry as a form of treatment.

According to Wengler, "This study helps improve our understanding of the pathophysiology of depression and can open new avenues of treatment for a disorder that affects over 100 million individuals worldwide."

With an illness like depression, any new information coming from studies like these is promising. The more we know about causes and symptoms, the easier it will be to treat.

Mental health is an essential part of our general well-being, and especially during this holiday season, it's important to practice self-care. If you need a mental health day, don't feel guilty about taking it, and encourage your friends and loved ones to do the same.

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