Depression symptoms, treatments and prevention
By Katherine Solem
While almost everyone suffers from occasional unhappiness, depression is a mood disorder characterized by chronic sadness that can severely impact an individual's daily life. From a biological standpoint, depression is caused by an imbalance of the chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, in the brain. A variety of things can cause this imbalance ranging from genetic predisposition to specific medications. If you or someone you know is one of the nearly 15 million Americans that suffer from this disease every year, read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment options.
Causes of Depression
While no single cause can explain all occurrences of depression, a combination of the factors below are thought to cause depression.
- Biological Cause: The underlying cause of depression is an imbalance in the neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain. One such neurotransmitter, serotonin, has specifically been implicated as the most significant neurotransmitter in depression.
- Genes: Studies of twins and family trees have revealed that depression may have a genetic component. Thus, an individual's genetic make-up can, at least in part, cause depression.
- Medications: Certain medicines have the side effect of causing depression. In such cases, stopping the use of these medicines is often sufficient to alleviate the depression. If you have recently started a new medication and think this may be the case, consult with your doctor.
- Life events: Some particularly stressful events, including financial problems or death of a loved one, can cause depression.
Symptoms of Depression
While not all of these symptoms have to be present for depression to be diagnosed, exhibiting these depression symptoms daily over an extended period of time is characteristic of depression.
- Constant sadness: Having consistent feelings of unhappiness of hopelessness.
- Loss of interest: Loss of interest or no longer enjoying daily activities that used to be fun.
- Weight loss or gain: A dramatic change in weight. This could also be due to a significant change in daily eating habits; some people respond to depression by eating constantly while others lose a sense of appetite.
- Change in sleep habits: Consistently sleeping too much or too little.
- Loss of energy: Feeling lethargic or consistently tired every day despite getting sufficient sleep.
Risk Factors for Depression
- Having a close relative who has had depression: Due to the genetic component of the disease, having a close family member who has suffered from depression increases your likelihood to develop it. This may also be do to the stress of coping with a close family member who is suffering from depression.
- Stressful events: Individual stressful events such as losing a job, getting into an accident, death of a loved on.
- Chronic stress: Living in continuously stressful situations, such as living in poverty.
- Thyroid disease: Hypothyroidism, which causes the thyroid to produce too little hormones, can cause depression. Due to the close relationship between the two diseases, hyperthyroidism is also often misdiagnosed as depression.
- Chronic pain conditions: Conditions that cause chronic pain including chronic migraines, arthritis and fibromyalgia have been shown to have a high correlation with depression.
- Stroke/neurological conditions: Having had a stroke in the past increases the likelihood of developing depression. Other neurological conditions that impact movement are also linked to depression due to role of serotonin in depression and movement.
- Heart failure: Having had a heart attack also increases the risk of depression.
- Insomnia and sleep disorders: While depression can cause disruptions in regular sleeping patterns, insomnia or other sleep disorders can also impact an individual's mood and thus increase the likelihood of depression.
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