The diagnosis before the disease?

As researchers make more and more progress into what causes various mental illnesses, they're getting a clearer picture of what happens before the onset of clinical illness. And knowing what happens before illness onset can mean figuring out a way to start preventative treatment.

Although we're quite a long way off from discovering this in eating disorders, there was an interesting study on how people with schizophrenia do not respond to "bizarre" faces (photos were altered in Photoshop for the experiment). Not only do normal people respond visually, their brains set off a sort of alarm when they see these abnormal faces.

“The visual areas of the brain are highly connected to other areas, including the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, but in schizophrenic patients, there is a diminished connection between the various parts, leading to disturbed integration of information — and thus to distorted experiences," Prof. Talma Hendler says.

The key to the findings is this: emotional understanding and processing begins early- very early. Given that schizophrenia is strongly rooted in genetics, it is likely that this abnormal emotional processing begins early, too. So a screening test could be developed for high-risk children to determine if they have these characteristics, too.

Of course, we don't know if antipsychotics work as a prophylactic treatment, nor do we know if this abnormal processing is predictive of future schizophrenia. For instance, brain functioning was altered in those people closely related to OCD sufferers, even though they didn't have any symptoms themselves. But we know the genetics, and perhaps being able to keep a watchful eye on those most likely to suffer may be just as good. Still, every tool should be evaluated and this could prove very interesting and useful

EDITED: Laura just posted about a potential test for predicting postpartum depression.

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Libby said...

Wow. Just wow. The possibilities are awesome. Hooray for scientific research!

sarah said...

You'd be hard pressed to get me to take any of the anti-psychotics on the market today anyway (my partner works in community mental health and tells me horror stories) if I needed them let alone as a preventative treatment. Still, it's interesting, as is the article on the increased incidence of brain and lung cancers in patients with mental illnesses.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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