Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder - Definition
Seasonal affective disorder is also known as SAD, is a type of depression that follows the seasons.
The most common type of SAD is called winter depression where winter's short days and long nights may make feelings of depression, laziness, fatigue, cravings for sweets and starches, headaches, sleep problems and irritability.
It generally begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by summer. A less familiar type of SAD, known as summer depression, usually begins in the late spring or early summer. It goes away by winter.
SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight during different times of the year. The disorder usually begins when you're a young adult. It's also more common in women than in men.
What causes SAD is unclear, but it may have to do with the amount of sunlight you receive. In some people, however, recurring episodes of depression may occur in the summer rather than in the winter.
Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a cyclic, seasonal condition, which means signs and symptoms are present only during a particular season of the year and then go away.
Although your symptoms are clues to the diagnosis, not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms. Common symptoms of winter depression include the following:
- A change in desire, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
- Increase in weight
- A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- A tendency to oversleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- A drop in energy level
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
Symptoms Of Summer Depression
Symptoms of summer depression include mania or hypomania, poor desire, weight loss and insomnia. Either type of SAD may also include some of the symptoms that are present in other forms of depression.
These symptoms include feelings of shame, a loss of interest or delight in activities you used to enjoy, ongoing feelings of despair, and physical problems, such as headaches.
Causes Of Seasonal Affective Disorder
General physicians don't know the causes of SAD, but inheritance, age and your body's chemical makeup all seem to play a role. So can the availability of sunlight.
Reduced sunlight may disturb circadian rhythms that regulate your body's internal clock, which lets you know when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake up. This disturbance may cause depression.
Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that is related to depression, might be the cause. Production of melatonin increases during the long nights of winter.
Lack of serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that seems to be triggered by sunlight, is the reason for winter depression. People who are depressed are known to have reduced levels of serotonin in their brains.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosis:
It's often difficult for physicians to diagnose SAD because other types of depression may imitate SAD. Diagnosing SAD depends on whether:
- These periods of depression have been followed by nondepressed seasons
- You've experienced depression and other signs and symptoms of SAD for at least two continuous years, during the same season each year
Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment:
Light therapy is the main treatment for winter depression. Light therapy is easy to manage and has relatively few side effects.
Your physician may prescribe an antidepressant in combination with light therapy, or as an alternative, if light therapy isn't working. Summer depression is generally treated with antidepressants.
Examples include sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) and venlafaxine (Effexor). Psychotherapy helps you identify and modify negative thoughts and behaviors that may play a role in bringing about signs and symptoms of SAD.