Depression is a condition in which you feel sad, hopeless, and uninterested in daily life. Many medical problems can create changes in your body that cause depression. Some examples are heart disease, a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, hormone problems, and cancer. As your physical condition improves, your depression will usually improve. However, if your health does not get better, depression can continue.
What is the cause?
The exact cause of this disorder is not known.
The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Without the right balance of these chemicals, there may be problems with the way you think, feel, or act. People with depression may have too little or too much of some of these chemicals. Many medical problems upset the balance of chemicals in your body, such as:
Heart disease or a stroke
Brain problems such as Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease
Hormone problems such as thyroid problems or adrenal gland changes
Infections such as mononucleosis, hepatitis, or pneumonia
Certain medicines can also cause or worsen depression.
In addition to medical conditions that physically cause depression, you may also get depressed about being ill. Illness can reduce your energy, make you feel alone, and change the way you see yourself.
What are the symptoms?
Besides feeling somewhat sad and uninterested in things, symptoms may include:
Having trouble falling asleep, waking up very early, or sleeping more than usual
Noticing changes in your appetite and weight, either up or down
Having low energy
Losing interest in sex
Feeling worthless and guilty
Not being able to concentrate or remember things
Feeling hopeless or just not caring about anything
Worrying that you will never feel better
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your symptoms. He will make sure you do not have a drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms. You may be asked to have some lab tests to pinpoint other medical problems.
How is it treated?
Depression can be successfully treated with either therapy, medicine, or both. Sometimes treating the medical problem helps depression. For example, treating thyroid illness may help symptoms of depression. But sometimes depression is still a problem after the illness has been treated. Sometimes treating depression helps to treat medical symptoms. For example, some medicines used to treat depression help migraines.
Several types of medicines can help. Your healthcare provider will work with you to select the best medicine. Before you take any medicine for depression, check with your healthcare provider to make sure it will not interact with the medicines you are taking for your medical problem.
Seeing a mental health therapist is helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps you identify and change thought processes. Replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones can help your depression.
Learning ways to relax may help. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful. You may want to talk with your healthcare provider about using these methods along with medicines and therapy.
Claims have been made that certain herbal and dietary products help control depression symptoms. Supplements are not tested or standardized and may vary in strengths and effects. They may have side effects and are not always safe. Before you take any supplement, make sure that it will not make your medical problem worse, and that it will not interact with other medicines that you take.
How can I take care of myself?
Get support. It is important to work with your treatment team. They can help you deal with the physical and emotional effects of your illness, and of treatments. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, try to quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.
Get emergency care if you or a loved one have serious thoughts of suicide or harming others.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-11-17 Last reviewed: 2014-11-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Depression Due to a Medical Condition: References
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC. Retrieved November 2014