Winter is a time for skiing, enjoying good coffee in front of a fireplace and wearing wooly sweaters. It’s also a time for shorter days and longer nights – not a good combination for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In this article, we’ll discuss SAD, its symptoms and popular treatments for it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression linked to the seasons. While the symptoms are temporary, it is a recurring condition that affects between four and six percent of the US population.
The Mayo Clinic reports that, while specific causes of SAD remain unknown, most signals point to the decrease in sunlight as having a triple impact on our bodies, including:
- Interrupting our body’s internal clock
- Triggering a reduction in our levels of serotonin, thus depriving our brain of a natural and powerful neurotransmitter
- Reducing our levels of melatonin, which plays a huge role in maintaining regular sleep patterns
How Widespread is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As reported by Mental Health America, SAD affects more women than men. While cases have been reported in both hemispheres, SAD is almost unheard of along the equator. Interestingly, young people are more susceptible to experiencing SAD during winter months than older adults.
What are Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Symptoms of SAD closely mirror those of normal depression; the main caveat is that with SAD, the symptoms present themselves repeatedly during a particular time of year. Symptoms include:
- A persistent low mood
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of anxiety
- Decreased interest in socializing
- Reduction in sex drive
- Lethargy throughout the day
- Appetite changes, with a specific craving for foods high in carbohydrates, and
- Difficulty in concentration
Should I See My Doctor About Seasonal Affective Disorder?
We all have bad days, but if you’re experience low moods for two weeks or more, it may be time to consult with your family doctor. Also, you should call your doctor if you are experiencing:
- Thoughts of harming yourself
- Difficulty with finding your footing at work and in relationships, and
- Lingering physical symptoms, including headaches, prolonged pain, and problems with digestion.
Treatments and Medications for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Because reduction in sunlight is viewed as a major contributor to SAD, physicians typically recommend a treatment plan consisting of medication and light therapy.
Antidepressants that are prescribed for depression are normally the first line of defense in treating SAD. Patients usually wait several weeks before experiencing the full benefits. The more popular selections include:
Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro, classified collectively as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increase the amounts of serotonin in the brain. Thus far, there have been no major differences reported in terms of effectiveness. Prozac and Lexapro are the only antidepressants approved for use by adolescents. After 14 weeks of treatment with these medications, your depression should be in remission. Side effects include nausea, loss of sex drive, drowsiness, loss of appetite and upset stomach.
Bupropion was the first medication to earn FDA approval as a treatment specifically for SAD. Unlike most other antidepressants, Bupropion is designed to work on dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Unlike the SSRIs, Bupropion causes less sexual dysfunction. It is known, however, for causing restlessness, agitation and sleeplessness.
Eldepryl is prescribed to block monoamine oxidase, which is known to be harmful to neurotransmitters. Because its side effects are a bit more severe than other antidepressants, Eldepryl is typically prescribed for severe bouts of SAD.
Consisting of prolonged exposure to artificial light as a substitute for natural light has shown promise in treating SAD. The approach is based upon influencing the mood-related chemicals in the brain through artificial light.
dTMS Therapy, a Promising Natural Cure for Seasonal Depression
A relatively new approach that is generating much excitement in the medical world is deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS), a noninvasive technique that utilizes electromagnetic pulses to stimulate specific areas of the brain. Launched by Brainsway as an innovative approach specifically for treating depression, it was tested in over 60 clinical trials before earning FDA approval in 2008.
How Does dTMS Work?
Even though it targets nerve activity deep within the brain that cannot be affected directly– areas approximately 5-7 cm beneath the scalp – dTMS is a completely noninvasive outpatient procedure. As the patient relaxes in their chair, a specialized cap is fitted snugly to their scalp. The cap contains coils that indirectly manipulate regions of the brain by transmitting magnetic pulses at a low frequency of 1-10 kHz, which triggers an electronic field in the underlying brain tissue. No form of sedation is needed, and the only sensation patients may experience are a light tapping sound through the specialized cap.
While research into dTMS continues, it is offered at facilities throughout the U.S. Patients interested in seeking dTMS for treatment of their depression are encouraged to contact Westside Neurotherapeutics by phone at 310.946.0008 or online at www.neurotherapeutics.com.