Today, Saturday, March 23, 2019

Seasonal Affective Disorder - Symptoms and Treatments

The term 'Seasonal Affective Disorder' was first introduced in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD. He published a paper diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder in an attempt to explain why he became sluggish during the winter after moving from sunny South Africa to New York. From there, scientists continued to look further into the disorder in hopes of gaining more information. According to more recent studies, approximately 25% of Americans suffer from mild seasonal affective disorder and 5% suffer from a more severe form of the disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is commonly referred to as winter depression, winter blues or the hibernation reaction. It should be noted that approximately 30% of patients with SAD also experience a mood shift which might almost be characterized as 'manic' or hypomania, which usually occurs during the spring.There are two types of SAD, winter-onset and summer-onset, both of which are triggered by the change of seasons. Winter-onset SAD occurs when the days grow shorter between fall and winter.

People affected by winter-onset SAD react negatively to the combination of decreased amounts of light and cooler temperatures. Although winter-onset SAD is the most common type of season affective disorder, there are some people who experience seasonal affective disorder as spring turns into summer.

Who Gets Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD can affect anyone, adults, teenagers and children. It is uncertain why some people are more prone to experience SAD that others. Some factors that play a role in SAD are individual biology, brain chemistry, family history, and life experiences.

Similar to different types of depression, females are about four times more likely to develop seasonal affective disorder than males. Also, like other medical conditions, SAD can be hereditary. Therefore, if an individual has a relative who suffers from depression, that individual has a greater chance of developing SAD.

Studies in the United States show that people living in New Hampshire were seven times likelier to have SAD compared to people living in Florida. Therefore, it is believed that individuals living closer to the equator are less likely to develop seasonal affective disorder. Depending upon the extent of the exposure to light, some people are more sensitive to the variations and may experience a change in hormone production. Researchers continue to look for factors that contribute to SAD, as well as why certain individuals manifest a greater susceptibility to this condition.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD
The signs and symptoms of winter-onset and summer-onset SAD can vary from mild to severe, including, as noted, symptoms typical of other types of depression. Although symptoms aid in diagnosis, not everyone who has SAD experiences the same symptoms. The most prevalent symptom among both types of SAD is a noticeable change in behavior which occurs in a predicable seasonal pattern.

Common symptoms of winter-onset SAD include:
•    Weight gain
•    Change in appetite, usually a craving for sweets or foods high in carbohydrates
•    Fatigue
•    Difficulty concentrating
•    Increased sensitivity to social rejection
•    Loss of energy
•    Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
•    Social withdraw

Common symptoms of summer-onset SAD include:
•    Weight loss
•    Loss of appetite
•    Insomnia
•    Agitation
•    Increased sex drive

Although summer-onset SAD has a list that is the opposite of winter-onset SAD, there are signs and symptoms shared by both. These include irritability and anxiety, hopelessness, body aches, poor sleep, inexplicable crying spells, and physical disorders, such as headaches.

The seasonality of the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder is what sets SAD apart from depression. While milder symptoms of seasonal affective disorder do not interfere with the individual's ability to participate in everyday activities and might be more difficult to detect, the fact that the signs and symptoms occur only a few months each year that marks the individual as a SAD sufferer.

Treatment of SAD

Treatment for SAD will not necessarily cure an individual, but it can help relieve the symptoms. Although there are several different types of treatment, the most common and the one proven to be the most effective is light therapy, or phototherapy. Other treatments include anti-depressant medication and counseling.

There are two types of light therapy, bright light treatment and dawn simulation. Bright light treatment requires an individual to sit in front of a light box that uses fluorescent lights that are brighter than indoor lights for approximately 30 minutes to two hours, depending upon the intensity of the light used, each day throughout the fall and winter. It important to note that ultraviolet light, tanning lamps, and heat lamps should not be used as treatment options for SAD.

Dawn simulation treatment is found to be more convenient because it works while sleeping. This treatment uses a low-intensity light that is automatically set to start at a certain time in the morning before the individual is awake, such that upon wakening, the light gradually becomes brighter until the daily treatment is completed.

Either form of light treatment takes approximately three days to two weeks before a response or change is detectable. If an individual stops light therapy too soon, a relapse is likely to be triggered. When used properly, light therapy is effective, but is also accompanied by certain side effects, including eyestrain, headache, irritability and insomnia.

Other Treatment Options
Since mood and behavior can exacerbate SAD, therapy is often recommended as an adjunct treatment modality. The support and guidance of a therapist can help identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors. Furthermore, a therapist can help an individual learn new and healthy ways to cope with seasonal affective disorder.

Certain individuals who suffer from SAD find that antidepressants provide relief from symptoms, but it often can take several weeks to feel a difference with medication. Treatment with medications may be prescribed prior to the onset of symptoms to enable the patient to to acclimate to the medication prior to the seasonal change. Common ingredients found in prescribed medication for seasonal affective disorder patients include bupropion, paroxetine, sertraline, fluoxetine and venlafaxine.

After a careful evaluation, a doctor or medical professional can diagnose seasonal affective disorder. Even though there is no known way to prevent SAD, managing symptoms is vital to ensuring that quality of life is maintained. If diagnosed with SAD, it is important to follow the doctor's recommendations, learn about the disorder, try alternative techniques prior to using medication, where possible, spend time with loved ones, socialize, persist with healthy nutrition and fitness plans, and develop a healthy sleep routine.

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