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Depression Due to a Medical Condition

What is depression due to a medical condition?

Depression is a condition in which you feel sad, hopeless, and uninterested in daily life. Several medical problems can cause depression. It is not that you are just upset at having a medical problem, but that the medical problem physically causes depression.

How does it occur?

The brain is made up of billions of neurons (cells) that communicate with each other. This affects other parts of the body. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances in the brain. The kinds and amounts of these substances control how neurons communicate. Too little or too much of these chemicals can cause mood problems. Many medical problems upset the balance of neurotransmitters in your body, such as:

  • heart or circulatory problems (such as a stroke)
  • brain problems (such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease)
  • hormone problems (such as thyroid problems and adrenal gland changes)
  • infections (such as mononucleosis, hepatitis, and pneumonia)
  • disorders such as AIDS
  • several types of cancer (such as brain tumors, thyroid cancer, and lymph gland cancer)

Certain medicines can cause or worsen depression:

  • benzodiazepines
  • hormonal birth control
  • isotretinoin (Accutane)
  • levofloxacin (Levaquin)
  • some malaria medicines
  • some beta blockers
  • some pain medicines

In addition to medical conditions that physically cause depression, you may also become depressed about being ill. Illness reduces your energy, sense of well-being, and social activities.

What are the symptoms?

Besides feeling somewhat sad and uninterested in things, you may also:

  • be irritable
  • have trouble falling asleep, wake up very early, or sleep too much
  • have little or excessive appetite
  • be easily tired and low in energy
  • have low sexual desire and function
  • feel worthless and guilty
  • have trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • feel hopeless or just not care about anything
  • have unexplained physical symptoms
  • worry that you will never feel better

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and any drug or alcohol use. You will be asked about the medicines and supplements you take. You may be asked to have some lab tests to pinpoint other medical problems.

How is it treated?

Sometimes treating the medical problem helps depression. For example, treating thyroid illness may treat depressive symptoms. But sometimes depression is still a problem after the illness has been effectively treated. Sometimes treating depression helps to treat medical symptoms. For example, some medicines used to treat depression help migraines.

Do not try to overcome depression by yourself. Depression can be successfully treated with either psychotherapy, medicine, or both. Discuss this with your healthcare provider or therapist.

Medicines

Several types of medicines can help treat depression. Your healthcare provider will work with you to carefully select the best one for you. Before you take any medicine for depression, check with your healthcare provider to make sure it will not interact with the medicines you are taking for your physical condition.

You must take antidepressant medicines daily for 3 to 6 weeks to get full benefit from them. Most people benefit from taking these medicines for at least 6 months.

Psychotherapy

Seeing a mental health therapist can help with all forms of depression. Therapy may last a short time or may need to go on for many months. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change thought processes that lead to depression. Replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones can help you with depression.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are recommended for people with depression. A multivitamin and mineral supplement may also be recommended.

Claims have been made that certain herbal and dietary products help control depression symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce symptoms of depression. St. John's wort may help mild symptoms of depression. It will not help severe cases of depression. No herb or dietary supplement has been proven to consistently or completely relieve depression. Supplements are not tested or standardized and may vary in strengths and effects. They may have side effects and are not always safe.

Learning ways to relax may help. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful. You may want to talk with your healthcare provider about using these methods along with medicines and psychotherapy.

How long will the effects last?

As your physical condition improves, your depression will usually improve. However, if your health remains poor, depression can continue. For this reason, you should seek professional help. The treatments listed above most often will help you to overcome depression or at least reduce it.

How can I take care of myself?

If you are being treated for depression, check with your healthcare provider before taking any new prescription or nonprescription medicines.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial. To help prevent depression:

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider's instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

When should I seek help?

Seek professional help if you believe that you or a loved one have the symptoms described here.

Get emergency help immediately if you or a loved one have serious thoughts of suicide or harming others.

Written by Gayle Zieman, PhD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-17
Last reviewed: 2010-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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