The new technique could help doctors diagnose depression early and better manage treatment for the disease.
Depression can be diagnosed by diurnal changes in a person's pulse. This is confirmed by a small study that a group of scientists from the German Goethe University led by Carmen Schiweck presented at a conference of the European College of Neuropharmacology.
The link between depression and changes in heart rate was previously known. However, this is a poorly understood topic, and no one has tried to use the pulse as a diagnostic criterion. A particular challenge is that many factors affect heart rate.
Scientists believe that their discovery is important for practice: it can warn doctors that a person is starting to get depressed, and show whether treatment is effective. The accuracy of the new method in the current study was 90%.
The study involved 16 people suffering from treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. First, for four days, scientists compared their heart rate fluctuations with those of a control group - 16 people of the same age, but without depression. For this, small wearable devices were used.
“We found that people with depression had a faster average heart rate, as well as less heart rate variability, as expected. On average, people with depression had a rhythm 10-15 beats per minute faster than participants in the control group, ”said Shivek.
Next, the scientists evaluated the heart rhythm of depressed patients after treatment. It almost returned to normal, became close to the indicators of the control groups.
“Usually our heart rate is faster during the day and slows down at night. It seems that a slowing heart rate at night suffers from depression. Apparently, this could be a way to identify patients at risk of developing depression or recurrence, ”explained Shivek.
At the end of the study, the scientists checked whether it is possible to distinguish a person with depression by pulse using a specially computer algorithm. Daily fluctuations in heart rate were quite typical. The computer correctly assigned 15 out of 16 people to the control group and 14 out of 16 to the depression group.
Such a high accuracy of the study gives hope for new opportunities in the early diagnosis of one of the most common mental disorders.