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Mood Disorders and Their Treatment Medications

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Mood disorders, also known as affective disorders, are a group of illnesses characterized by a marked change in a person’s emotional state. The three most common mood disorders are bipolar disorder, dysthymia, and major depressive disorder.

Mood disorders affect nearly 21 percent of adults in the United States. However, most sufferers can find some level of relief thanks to the many medications available to treat these conditions.

Calming the extremes of bipolar disorder

People who have bipolar, or manic-depressive disorder, experience extreme swings in their mood and behavior. Bipolar sufferers will feel euphoric and filled with energy only to crash into a state of despair and sadness. These distinct and extreme emotional states are called mood episodes. Bipolar patients can also feel both manic and depressed in the same episode, an experience known as a mixed state.

How long each mood episode or mixed state lasts varies, but the extremes in mood and behavior can greatly interfere with a person’s ability to maintain relationships, keep a job, or carry on normal, day-to-day activities.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong, recurrent illness with no known cure. Researchers believe imbalances in brain chemistry play a primary role in the illness. There are several different types of drugs that can help to normalize brain functioning in bipolar patients.

  • Mood stabilizers: These are the most popular medications for treating bipolar disorder. They include the well-known drug lithium, as well as anticonvulsants. Researchers don’t know why lithium can stabilize moods, but it can prevent or reduce the severity of manic episodes. It can be taken for long periods of time with minimal risk of organ damage. Anticonvulsants work by calming brain hyperactivity and might be taken with lithium to gain the greatest relief.

  • Anti-psychotics: Some doctors prescribe the newer anti-psychotic drugs, such as Zyprexa and Abilify, when lithium or anticonvulsants alone don’t work.

  • Anti-anxiety: For bipolar patients who feel anxious and have trouble sleeping, anti-anxiety drugs can provide short-term relief. Because these drugs are sedatives, they can be addictive. They aren’t prescribed for long-term use.

If you’re a bipolar sufferer, you’ll need some patience during the initial stages of your treatment. The full benefit of most of these medications isn’t felt for several weeks. Additionally, finding the most effective drug or combination of drugs can take time, depending on your individual reaction to a specific medication.

Eliminating the darkness of major depression and dysthymia

People who have major depressive disorder suffer from deep sadness and a lack of interest in life. These symptoms can be accompanied by an inability to concentrate, social withdrawal, and debilitating fatigue. To be characterized as major depression, a person must have these symptoms for two or more weeks. Without treatment, people who have had a major depressive episode may see their symptoms reappear, sometimes as often as once a month.

Dysthymia is a milder, more constant form of depression. People who have dysthymia disorder are often able to function in life and maintain social relationships; however, they may spend much of their lives feeling tense and irritable and they may have trouble sleeping. Many people with dysthymia don’t know their negative feelings are the result of an illness that can be treated.

Both major depressive disorder and dysthymia can be successfully treated with one of several types of anti-depressants. All antidepressants work by increasing the amounts of one or more of these brain neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Research has shown that increasing the levels of these chemicals has a positive effect on a person’s mood.

  • MAOIs: Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are among the oldest of the antidepressants. They work by blocking an enzyme that would normally decrease levels of all three neurotransmitters. Because MAOIs can have severe side effects, including dangerous food interactions, they’re usually prescribed only if other antidepressants aren’t working.

  • NDRIs: Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors increase the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.

  • SNRIs: Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors increase the amounts of norepinephrine and serotonin.

  • SSRIs: Serotonin reuptake inhibitors change only the amount of serotonin in the brain. They are considered among the safest of all antidepressants.

  • Tricyclics: This older class of antidepressant also increases neurotransmitter amounts. Tricyclics are thought to be as effective as SSRIs or SNRIs, but they can cause many side effects, including low blood pressure, blurred vision, memory loss, constipation, and increased heart rate.

Anti-depressants can be so effective in alleviating your symptoms that you may be tempted to stop taking your medication. However, abruptly stopping could cause your depression to return. Check with your doctor. She may prescribe a step-down approach to wean you off treatment.

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