Spit Test for Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)

This idea that there is a genetic marker for bipolar disorder does have some validity. But this is research that is in its infancy. The science suggests that the marketing of such a test (now available for $399) is both premature and irresponsible. Here are some of the limitations of the test:

  1. It is only valid for caucasians
  2. Only 3% of those with bipolar disorder have the gene.
  3. It naturally follows that even if you have bipolar disorder the test might not detect it.
  4. How useful can such a test be?

At Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry the blogger makes some pointed and accurate remarks about the whole shenanigan:

The thing about bipolar disorder is that it can be diagnosed by (drum roll please)… interviewing a patient thoroughly! That’s right, a well-trained interviewer can simply ask questions to determine whether an individual has bipolar disorder. Imagine that. There is often a hullabaloo made over patients with bipolar disorder being initially misdiagnosed as depressed — the way to solve this problem is not to perform a fairly useless genetic test, but rather to actually spend time with patients, perform a thorough assessment, and listen to them. How’s that for a wild idea? If your response is: “But there’s no time to actually talk with the patients,” then no cookie for you! It is likely true that many people later diagnosed with bipolar were initially seen in primary care settings for a brief appointment, in which they were diagnosed as depressed (the underlying bipolar piece was missed). Again, giving a scientifically dubious test because “Gee, it’s based on genetics so it has to be accurate” rather than training physicians to improve interviewing skills will only worsen the problem.

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Kalea Chapman, Psy.D


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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