It is estimated that around 7% of adults suffer from depression in any one year. Treating this condition is further complicated by the fact that there are many medication options that work very differently for each individual.
Now, scientists may have found a solution to this complicated issue. It turns out that measuring brainwaves produced during REM sleep can predict whether a patient will respond well to a particular treatment for depression.
This new discovery may enable doctors to switch patients' treatments effectively without needing them to bear with unnecessary treatment regimens for weeks before discovering its outcome. "In real terms, it means that patients, often in the depths of despair, might not need to wait weeks to see if their therapy is working before modifying their treatment," said the lead of the study, Dr. Thorsten Mikoteit.
Standard treatments for depression such as Prozac and Fluoxetine can take weeks, even months to take effect. This means patients have to continue to suffer for a long time before even knowing if the treatment they are taking works for them.
Half of all depression patients don't respond to their initial antidepressant treatment. This means that after four weeks of waiting for a positive result, doctors need to change treatment and wait once more. Luckily, the new discovery would allow doctors to have an answer as to what treatment would work for a patient within a week.
"This is a pilot study, but nevertheless it shows fairly significant improvements. We have been able to show that by predicting the non-response to antidepressants we were able to adapt the treatment strategy more or less immediately: this enables us to significantly shorten the average duration between the start of antidepressant treatment and response, which is vital especially for seriously depressed patients," said team lead Dr. Thorsten Mikoteit, of the University of Basel.
Mikoteit added that the trials need to be repeated with a larger group of patients before the results can be confirmed. Still, they offer great promise for those suffering from severe depression.
"What it does mean is that we may be able to treat the most at-risk patients, for example, those at risk of suicide, much quicker than we can currently do. If this is confirmed to be effective, it will save lives," explained Mikoteit.