September 29, 2021 -- A new blood test that measures a biomarker for stress could improve access to mental health support for healthcare professionals, according to research presented at the 2021 American Association for Clinical Chemistry meeting.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, healthcare professionals are finding themselves yet again grappling with a flood of COVID-19 patients and the ensuing challenges that entails, as well as chronic staffing shortages. The situation is taking a toll on the mental welfare of healthcare professionals and impacting the quality of care that patients receive for both COVID-19 and more routine illnesses.
A team of researchers led by Hala Demerdash, PhD, of Alexandria University Hospitals in Egypt set out to design a blood test for occupational stress that could help hospitals improve healthcare professionals' access to mental health support.
"Before we began this study, we observed that the healthcare providers who were going to be enrolled in the ICU were suffering anxiety problems," Demerdash said. "Some were even trying to find excuses to postpone their shifts."
The stress hormone biomarker that the team focused on was the peptide copeptin (also known as CT-proAVP). Copeptin is part of a precursor to the hormone arginine vasopressin, which is released in response to stress and is more stable than the hormone.
Demerdash and her team set out to determine if blood levels of copeptin correlated with psychological stress. They measured copeptin levels in 70 physicians and nurses who were treating COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). At the same time as their copeptin levels were measured, the participants filled out a psychological stress questionnaire. Participants worked in the ICU for two weeks, followed by two weeks of isolation at home.
The results yielded a positive correlation between blood copeptin levels and participants' stress questionnaire scores. The respondents were most stressed right before they went into the ICU due to anticipatory anxiety, with mean blood copeptin levels of 15.67 ± 8.6 pmol/L and mean stress questionnaire scores of 66.9 ± 18.3.
After isolating at home for two weeks, the respondents' mean copeptin levels and questionnaire scores both dropped to 3.98 ± 1.28 pmol/L and 23.0 ± 7.95, respectively.
"I found that copeptin was significantly elevated in healthcare providers before they went into the ICU and that copeptin may be used as a potential biomarker for physiological strain during work in a stressful environment," Demerdash said.