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Depression Diagnosis

Are you concerned about depression? Do you wonder how doctors are able to make an accurate depression diagnosis?

It used to be that all mood disorders were lumped together. Now, however, a doctor will make a distinction regarding the particular disorder a patient has. For example, a doctor will determine whether a patient has major depression, dysthymia, or mild, chronic depression, seasonal affective disorder or SAD, bipolar disorder (manic depression), or some other type of clinical depression.

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How does a doctor make a depression diagnosis?

We've become accustomed to doctors using specialized blood tests or other expensive laboratory tests to help them make a conclusive diagnosis. However, most laboratory tests are not very helpful when it comes to diagnosing depression. In fact, talking with the patient may be the most important diagnostic tool the doctor has.

To effectively diagnose and treat depression, the doctor must hear about specific symptoms of depression. While a physical examination will reveal a patient's overall state of health, by talking with a patient, a doctor can learn about other things that are relevant to making a depression diagnosis. A patient, for example, can report on such things as daily moods, behaviors, and lifestyle habits.

A depression diagnosis is often difficult to make because clinical depression can manifest in so many different ways. For example, some clinically depressed individuals seem to withdraw into a state of apathy. Others may become irritable or even agitated. Eating and sleeping patterns can be exaggerated. Clinical depression may cause a person either to sleep or eat to excess or almost eliminate those activities.

Observable or behavioral symptoms of clinical depression also may sometimes be minimal despite a person experiencing profound inner turmoil. Depression can be an all-encompassing disorder, and it affects a person's body, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in varying ways.

What does the doctor look for to make a depression diagnosis?

A doctor can rule out other conditions that may cause depression with a physical examination, personal interview, and lab tests. The doctor will also conduct a complete diagnostic evaluation, discussing any family history of depression or other mental illness. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, including how long you've had them, when they started, and how they were treated. Your doctor will ask questions about the way you feel, including whether you have any symptoms of depression such as the following:

  • Sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
  • Loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
  • Major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite 
  • Insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
  • Physical restlessness or sense of being rundown that is noticeable by others
  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
  • Problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt

 

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