Testing for Chemical Imbalance


The normal human brain contains a vast number of nerve cells. These nerve cells, or neurons, talk to one another through thought, emotion, and behavior. They do this by producing naturally occurring chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. The four main neurotransmitter chemicals produced in the brain are Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, and Gamma-aminobutyric Acid, or GABA. All are produced at “normal” levels. When there is an abnormal level of any naturally produced chemical present, be it above or below normal, the brain is said to be chemically imbalanced (National Center for Health and Wellness, Co., 2006).

When do They Test for Chemical Imbalance?

As of 2009, there are no conclusive tests that exist to test for a chemical imbalance. The medical field is experimenting with a test called Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan), but the process is mostly used for research in medication to treat abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, rather than for diagnosis. This is mostly due to the fact that this scanning is not readily available and it is very expensive. Therefore, the decision of whether to perform this, or any tests, varies depending upon the actions and symptoms that the patient presents when visiting a mental health professional (Carver, 2009).

How do They Test for Chemical Imbalance?

Most of the time, tests for chemical imbalance are performed by mental health professionals when there is a change in a person’s behavior. Mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, are trained to evaluate patients and look for thought, behavior, mood, perception, or speech changes that are indicative of identified mental disorders. These changes, therefore, indicate a chemical imbalance in the brain, or an abnormal level of neurotransmitters (Carver, 2009). These tests, and not a PET scan or other formal diagnostic medical procedure, are the most common way of determining when a chemical balance exists.

Why Do They Test for a Chemical Imbalance?

Chemical imbalances must be identified in order to address the problem either through medication or doctor consultation. This is due to the fact that chemical imbalances in the brain are the root cause of many mental disorders that may cause a person to bring harm to themselves or others. Some of these mental conditions include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Medications are prescribed for patients who are observed to have chemical imbalances in order to encourage production of the correct chemical and bring the count back to normal levels within the body (Carver, 2009).

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