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Depression is not a “poor me” syndrome
Depression is not just someone feeling self-pity. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, is genetically predisposed, and requires proper medical diagnosis and medication to control. Two naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, serotonin and norepinephrine, affect sleep patterns, sensitivity to pain, ability to concentrate and overall tolerance of external conditions. As these chemicals also transfer information from the brain to the spinal cord, imbalances in these chemicals will result in the physical, as well as emotional, signs of depression including headaches, body aches, and joint pain.
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Symptoms of Depression
The extent of the signs and symptoms of clinical depression can vary dramatically from one person to another. Hallmark symptoms of depression include loss of interest in typical daily activities that you once enjoyed, feeling hopeless, extreme over-reactionary outbursts of anger or sadness, disruption in sleeping patterns, difficulty in concentration or decision making, unintentional weight gain or loss, feeling fatigued or weak, loss of interest in sex, thoughts or actions of suicide, and unexplained physical pain or problems. While any one of these symptoms will not render a diagnosis of depression, presence of three or more symptoms lasting for more than a few days is a sign to make an appointment with your doctor and talk to him about depression.
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Diagnosis and Treatment
The most unfortunate and frustrating aspect of living with depression is the fact that there is no clinical test to diagnose the disease. The theories of serotonin and norepinephrine imbalances are widely agreed upon in the medical community, but to date there is no way to test the chemical levels in the brain of a living person. Therefore, diagnosis is relegated to medical guesswork and treatment with medication is literally a ‘hit and miss’ application, where the doctor will prescribe the lowest dose of the medication he feels will resolve your symptoms, and require you to follow up with him in two weeks to discuss the status of your symptoms. At that time the doctor will determine, with your aid, whether the medication type and dosage is appropriate, or whether adjustments have to be made. Many patients go through several different types of medication before finding the right one to control their symptoms. The process can be frustrating, and some of the side effects of the wrong medication can be worse than the original condition.
Medical science is currently investigating ways to test brain chemical levels to specifically identify and treat depression, but until a clinical test is available, the best way to combat depression is to discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor.