New Blood Test for Anxiety Latest in Promising Trend

By  //  April 14, 2023

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Last month researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine announced they had developed a blood test for anxiety. Their discovery is not the first time that scientists have been able to detect and diagnose mental illness this way.

What makes the news remarkable is that it belongs to an emerging trend that could revolutionize mental healthcare: the ability to predict, diagnose, and treat not just anxiety but potentially many types of mental illness, all from a vial of blood.

Blood Tests to Diagnose Psychiatric Conditions?

Blood tests are a critical diagnostic tool in mainstream medicine. They have helped physicians diagnose and treat numerous diseases and medical issues, from anemia and high cholesterol to diabetes, HIV, and cancer; and the list goes on. 

Until only quite recently, though, psychiatric conditions were notably absent in a round-up of medical issues that could be diagnosed via bloodwork. (The science was not there, perhaps because mental health parity has long been elusive.)

How the Anxiety Blood Test Works and What It Can Do

Blood tests work by detecting various “biomarkers” in the body that signal disease. These are objective measures that allow doctors to accurately pinpoint the root medical problem. Some of the more familiar biomarkers include cholesterol, blood sugar, and hormones like testosterone. 

Researchers now know that certain “RNA” biomarkers in the blood can provide a lot of information about a person’s anxiety. By examining these biomarkers, the new blood test can detect anxiety, gauge its severity, and determine if medication is necessary and which therapies may work best.

Who Can a Blood Test for Anxiety Help?

In a March 7 press release, Indiana University School of Medicine professor of psychiatry Alexander Niculescu, MD, PhD, shared some of the ways that a blood test for anxiety may prove most useful and who it might help. For example, many people don’t know they have anxiety until they have a panic attack and/or other physical symptoms (and end up in the ER convinced they’re having a heart attack). A blood test for anxiety administered in a wellness visit could help this population avoid “this pain and suffering” and access the right treatment earlier, according to Dr. Niculescu.

Those diagnosed with anxiety disorders also stand to benefit from a blood test for anxiety. That is because biomarkers can change with time, and as they change, a patient’s treatment needs may also.

This test can be administered in conjunction with other blood tests for mental illness, Dr. Niculescu said, as part of a panel test administered at regular wellness check-ups. Just one vial of blood could provide an accurate and comprehensive picture of the patient’s mental health. 

Other Mental Health Disorders That Blood Tests Can Diagnose

A blood test for anxiety is just the latest in a string of similar breakthroughs that Dr. Niculescu has helped to develop. Among them: blood tests for depression/bipolar disorder, pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Given the trend, more such blood tests for still other mental health conditions could follow. Who knows? Maybe one day a full lab workup for mental illnesses will be as routine as it is for cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure—and will finally render mental health parity for those affected and their loved ones.