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During the dark and cold days of winter many people start to experience moodiness and fatigue. These symptoms are extremely common of many different diseases and disorders, so it may be difficult to pinpoint the cause. If symptoms begin in the fall, last through the winter, and let up in the spring Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be to blame.

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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression that is triggered by the change of seasons. It is estimated that between one and 10 percent of the adult population of the United States suffers from SAD. SAD is much more prevalent in places that are farther from the equator and women are more susceptible to the disorder than men. The disorder can occur in people of any age, but most sufferers are between 18 and 30. SAD is more common through the winter and fall, but may occur during the summer in rare cases.

Symptoms of SAD

SAD can trigger a wide range of symptoms that may vary from person to person, including:

  • Crying spells
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Increased appetite

Diagnosing SAD

Since many of the symptoms associated with SAD may be present with other conditions and diseases, doctors generally perform tests to rule out other causes. There is no specific lab test to diagnose SAD. Doctors may perform tests to rule out thyroid issues, hypoglycemia, and viral illnesses. These tests may be covered by health insurance, which can be helpful. A psychiatric evaluation is generally recommended to diagnose SAD if other tests come back negative.

Causes of SAD

SAD may be triggered by a number of different things associated with a change of season. Decreased exposure to sunlight may trigger a decrease in the body’s production of serotonin, which may affect appetite, mood, and sex drive. Less daylight may also cause the body to produce more melatonin, which can make sufferers sleep more and feel chronically drowsy. The disruption of the circadian rhythm caused by the time change may also be a trigger for SAD.

Treating SAD

Home remedies to reduce the affects of SAD include altering sleep habits to try to rise with the sun and going outside while it is light out to increase sun exposure. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet can also help to improve mood and regulate body chemistry. Doctors may recommend light therapy, either at home or in the doctor’s office if it is not possible to get enough sun exposure naturally. Doctors may also prescribe antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy to combat SAD.

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