Medical Conditions that Can Behave Like Depression

Medical Conditions that Can Behave Like Depression

If you have concerns that suggest that you might be suffering with depression, it can be overwhelming to investigate all of the factors that may be contributing to your emotional distress. To understand more about depression, you may want to learn more about the characteristics of the various forms of depression, get insights into the relationship between chronic illness and depression, and find ways to determine if your medical condition is causing you to behave as if you have depression.

About Depression

Depression is not limited to one set of characteristics. In fact, there are many types of depression disorders as explained in the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) post, “Depression.”[1] While depression is a common mood disorder, it is serious and can present with severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. The most common symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. While no one set of issues has been defined as causing depression, it is believed that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Depression can also lead to substance abuse, such as Rohypnol addiction, as sufferers turn to illegal drugs to self-medicate the pain of depression. Conversely, substance abuse itself can mimic the symptoms of depression. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse such as Rohypnol addiction, treatment is available to help you achieve sobriety and long-term recovery.

Chronic Illness and Depression

There is a clear correlation between chronic illness and depression as described in the Medicine Net post, “Depression Caused by Chronic Illness.”[2] A chronic illness is an illness that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely. Examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

While a chronic illness may not have a cure, it can often be controlled through diet, exercise, and certain medicines. However, people diagnosed with chronic illnesses have major adjustments that they need to make including the following:

  • Adjusting to the demands of the illness itself
  • Adjusting to the treatments for their condition
  • Learning to live with the possible decline of mobility and independence

As a result, these adjustments may change the way a person lives, sees herself, and relates to others. For these reasons, a certain amount of despair and sadness is normal. In some cases, a chronic illness may actually cause depression. In fact, depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It is estimated that up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience symptoms of depression.

Medical Conditions that Behave Like Depression

While there is a correlation between depression and medical conditions, it is important for you to work with your healthcare provider to determine whether you have depression or whether you have a medical condition that can behave like depression. In the MentalIllnessPolicy.org post, “How To Tell If Someone Diagnosed With A Mental Illness, Has Another Medical Disorder (That May Have Led To A Misdiagnosis),”[3] you learn more about how to differentiate between a medical condition and depression.

It is often difficult to differentiate whether a person is suffering from depression or a medical illness that behaves like depression. However factors that make medical illness more likely include the following:

  • A person over 40 with no previous psychiatric history
  • No history of similar symptoms
  • Coexistence of chronic disease
  • History of head injury
  • Change in headache pattern
  • A patient who gets worse when given antipsychotic or anxiolytic medications
  • Visual disturbances, either double vision or partial visual loss
  • Speech deficits
  • Abnormal autonomic signs (blood pressure, pulse, temperature)
  • Disorientation or memory impairment
  • Fluctuating or impaired level of consciousness
  • Abnormal body movements
  • Hallucinations that are visual and vivid in color and change rapidly
  • Olfactory hallucinations
  • Blood or pus in the urine
  • High blood pressure
  • Symptoms of chest pain while at rest
  • Headaches associated with vomiting
  • Loss of control of urine or stool

If you or a loved one has any of these factors, you will want to document your observations and share them with your healthcare provider. The doctor will evaluate your information and may test for some of the common medical conditions that behave like depression, including the following:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Diabetic Ketosis or non-ketotic hyperosmolarity (blood sugar so high that it upsets body chemistry)
  • Wernickes-Korsakoff’s syndrome – Acute thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency so severe that it can cause rapid brain damage
  • Delirium tremens – Withdrawal from alcohol or other sedative hypnotics
  • Hypoxia – Low blood oxygen
  • Meningitis
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Subdural hematoma
  • Progressive neurological diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Zinc deficiency

There are several diagnostic tools and tests that your healthcare provider can request to rule out medical conditions that can behave like depression.

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[1] NIMH. Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

[2] Medicine Net. Retrieved from: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=55170

[3] MentalIllnessPolicy.org. Retrieved from: http://mentalillnesspolicy.org/coping/misdiagnosis.html