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Mental health issues can take a toll on the regular life of the person suffering -- it is very important to get right kind of treatment for it. However, two major mental health issues -- depression and bipolar disorder have often been confused to be very similar. In fact, the symptoms of the two are so alike that it often becomes difficult to differentiate.

A recent study has revealed that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has bipolar disorder or depression.

Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as major depression. Though the symptoms of bipolar disorder are very similar to that of major depression, the treatment of the two are very different, making it very challenging for the physician.

A patient suffering from bipolar disorder -- formerly called manic depression -- swings between an emotional high (manic episode) and severe depression.

A Loyola Medicine study recently found that heart rate variability, measured by an electrocardiogram, indicated whether the patients had major depression or bipolar disorder.

"Having a non-invasive, easy-to-use and affordable test to differentiate between major depression and bipolar disorder would be a major breakthrough in both psychiatric and primary care practices," said senior author Angelos Halaris.

He added that more research is needed to confirm the study's findings and determine their clinical significance.

The Loyola study enrolled participants that included 64 adults with major depression and 37 adults with bipolar disorder. All of them underwent electrocardiograms at the beginning of the study.

The participants rested comfortably on an exam table while a three-lead electrocardiogram was attached to the chest. The electrocardiographic data of all the patients was collected for 15 minutes.

The researchers then converted the electrocardiographic data into the components of heart rate variability. The data was further corrected with specialised software developed by study co-author Stephen W Porges, PhD, of Indiana University's Kinsey Institute, Neuroscience News reported.

It was found that subjects with major depression had significantly higher respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) than those with bipolar disorder.

The researchers also found that patients with bipolar disorder had higher blood levels of inflammation biomarkers than patients suffering from major depression.

The study, titled "Low cardiac vagal tone index by heart rate variability differentiates bipolar from major depression," was published in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.