More than the winter blues?

By: Health Local Staff Jan 16, 2012
Seasonal Affective Disorder

The causes, symptoms and treatments for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Seasonal Affective Disorder is known by many other labels; winter blues, winter depression and seasonal depression. It is a form of depression that usually occurs during the winter months.

It is supposed that this disorder may begin early in life, maybe even as early as the teenage years. One of the things it has in common with other forms of depression is that it is more likely to occur in females than it does in males.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Medical professionals have been searching for exact causes of what is referred to as, “SAD”. No direct causes have been identified, yet there are some ideas. One is that it is a result of a lack of sunlight. This results in the body’s 24 hour clock being off balance. There may also be other factors that increase the risk of SAD; genetics, hormones and body temperature have all been identified as possible causes.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although there has been no definite cause pin-pointed; there are symptoms that can be recognized to aid in diagnosing the disorder. The symptoms of this disorder usually begin to build up in the autumn and winter seasons. Many of them are the same as the symptoms of other forms of depression:

  • Sadness, bad temper, anxiety and various negative mood changes
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • A craving for foods with high carbohydrate content
  • Weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of the ability to concentrate
  • Increased daytime sleeping (this is one of the symptoms that is highly associated with SAD since other forms of depression usually result in insomnia)

Symptoms of the disorder are noticeable around the same time each year. In most cases, the symptoms begin to surface in September/October and ease in April/May.

Testing and Treatment for SAD

Unfortunately, there are no formal tests available for diagnosing. Doctors identify the disorder based on the symptoms. They may also want to know if depression has struck during the same season or has improved with the change of seasons for a period of 2 consecutive years. Physicians may also inquire if any immediate family members suffer from the disorder.

Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder is pretty close to the treatment of other forms of depression. There are a few different things that are suggested, though:

  • Increase the amount of exposure to sunlight and exercise regularly
  • Light therapy includes the use of fluorescent lights to simulate sunlight. It is important to follow the doctor’s order when using light therapy to treat SAD. Some of the side effects of light therapy may be headaches and feeling a strain on the eyes.

Although the change of seasons will improve symptoms, treatment will aid in improving them faster.

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