Unlike a cholesterol test, which can reveal a definite risk of heart disease, there have never been lab tests to diagnose the risk for or presence of mental health disorders. But that may be changing. Now a blood test called VeriPsych aims to help diagnose people with schizophrenia. The test is new, however, so it's still unclear how well it really works.
First Test of Its Kind
VeriPsych is the first blood test designed to aid in diagnosing schizophrenia soon after the first symptoms appear. The test was introduced in the United States in 2010. It analyzes a set of 51 proteins in the blood, called biomarkers. These biomarkers have been linked to brain health and schizophrenia.
A study in the journal Biomarker Insights compared the test results of schizophrenia patients and healthy individuals. The test correctly identified people as having or not having schizophrenia 83 percent of the time.
That's not accurate enough for a definite diagnosis of schizophrenia by itself. But at times, it might help confirm a diagnosis that's based on symptoms, such as having unusual thoughts, hearing voices, and withdrawing from daily life. A correct diagnosis helps you get started on the right treatment as quickly as possible, and that may lead to a better treatment response.
Published research on VeriPsych is limited, and for now its usefulness remains a question mark. If you're interested, ask your psychiatrist whether the test might be helpful for you. It's expensive, so also check with your insurer to find out if the test will be covered.
Is It Schizophrenia, or Something Else?
Even for a psychiatrist, it's not always easy to tell schizophrenia apart from other mental illnesses. Three disorders that may cause similar symptoms are bipolar disorder, severe depression, and Asperger syndrome (a mild form of autism). A blood test that could reliably sort out these disorders would be helpful. Researchers hope that one day a biomarker test will be able to do exactly that.
Recently, the team behind VeriPsych looked at the issue. They compared biomarkers in people who had schizophrenia with people who had one of these other three disorders. The biomarkers did a fairly good job of distinguishing schizophrenia from the other illnesses. But more research is needed in this area
On the horizon, biomarker tests could be used for other purposes as well. For example, a test might be used to divide schizophrenia patients into groups. Different groups could then be targeted for specific treatments. Or regular testing might be done to monitor how well a treatment is working.
In the long run, studying biomarkers could lead to a better understanding of schizophrenia and how it's best treated. And that could ultimately lead to a brighter future for you.