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Brain Imaging Helps Decide Treatment for Clinical Depression



For VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

Clinical depression is a serious medical condition. The word “clinical” is added to identify people who are depressed from those who simply feel sad because of life events. People with clinical depression can experience extreme sadness, hopelessness, and a sense of worthlessness. Often they are unable to carry out the usual activities of life. Sometimes they commit suicide. Clinical depression can be a difficult disorder for medical professionals to identify and treat. A treatment may work for some patients with depression and not others.

Helen Mayberg is a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She says the first treatment for depression often fails. So, doctors must try different methods of treatments until they find one that is effective. But technology may change that. Ms. Mayberg leads a team of researchers at Emory University. They used brain imaging technology called P.E.T., or positron emission tomography to study treatment effects. The study involved 63 depressed patients. They received either medication or talk therapy. The researchers found that one area of the brain -- called the anterior insula -- seemed to predict which treatment would work. Patients with a slow-working anterior insula did best with talk therapy. Patients with a very busy anterior insula reacted well to the antidepressant drug, Lexapro. Ms. Mayberg says the anterior insula may be a biological marker for depression. She says her team’s findings could help doctors treat mental disorders like other medical conditions.

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