Blood Tests May Help Find The Depression Medication That Best Works For You

People diagnosed with depression often struggle to find the right medications to relieve their symptoms, but a new study suggests that the answer to the problem might be in their blood. Research from a team of UK scientists reveals that a blood test can show if depression medication will work. That means that, in the future, people with depression may be able to skip a lot of unnecessary trial and error and move straight on to the treatment options that will actually work for them.

According to a 2014 study, 6.7 percent of American adults have experienced depression — that’s 15.7 million people. As many of those people have no-doubt already learned the hard way, about half of depressed patients don’t respond to the medications given to them initially, and about a third don’t respond to medication at all. In the past, the only way to find out if you were one of the people who would respond to first-line antidepressants, or to any antidepressants, was to try them out one at a time, giving each medication three months or more to take effect. Thus, a depressed person could spend months — if not years — trying out different medications without any relief of their symptoms.

In this new study, published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology , scientists from King’s College London attempted to solve this problem by creating a blood test that would be able to tell doctors right off the bat if patients were likely to respond to first-line antidepressants. Previous research has shown a link between inflammation and low response to antidepressants, so the researchers looked for two markers of inflammation in the blood of 140 depressed patients. Their analysis showed that patients with heightened levels of inflammation were unlikely to respond to common antidepressants, while people with low inflammation tended to respond well to these medications. Study co-author Annamaria Cattaneo explained in a press statement that these results “confirm and extend the mounting evidence that high levels of inflammation induce a more severe form of depression, which is less likely to respond to common antidepressants.”

This method of testing could help patients dealing with depression avoid spending months on end trying out medications that won’t work for them. Instead, patients whose tests reveal elevated inflammation — meaning that common antidepressants won’t work — can skip straight ahead to interventions that could work, including taking combination drugs or pairing antidepressants with anti-inflammatories.

“This study moves us a step closer to providing personalized antidepressant treatment at the earliest signs of depression,” said Cattaneo, adding, “It is really crucial now to carry out a clinical study comparing the current clinical practice in antidepressant prescription, based on trial-and-error, with our novel approach of ‘personalized psychiatry,’ where the antidepressant treatment plan is guided by the blood test.”

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