Experts Expect Record Numbers of Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnoses in 2021
As we continue to weather the storm of COVID-19, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is also on our radar. More subtle than an arctic blast, SAD is just as real, with just as much potential to have a chilling effect on our mood, productivity and wellness. Unfortunately, the emotional stress and fear that come with a global pandemic create an ideal climate for SAD this winter. Not surprisingly, mental health experts are expecting to diagnose and treat more cases of SAD in 2021 than ever before.
First discovered in the 1840s, SAD was not officially recognized as a disorder until the early 1980s, when Dr. Norman Rosenthal coined the term and categorized it as a form of clinical depression. We now know that SAD affects at least 5% of Americans; is more likely to affect women than men, those with other forms of depression or family members with the condition; and is far more common in northern regions, due to reduced natural sunlight. New research has advanced several theories as to why some people develop SAD, including: sluggish transmission of serotonin (which helps regulate mood and the body’s circadian rhythms; reduced sensitivity of the eyes to environmental light; a combination of these factors; or other reasons yet to be uncovered).
Increased understanding of what triggers SAD and its impact on mental health has inspired a growing number of clinical treatments that can effectively neutralize its effects.
Chief among them:
Sitting in front of a bright light box for 30 to 45 minutes daily has been a treatment of choice for more than three decades, helping SAD patients with either 10,000 lux of white fluorescent or full spectrum light that shines 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor illumination. Dawn simulation, another form of light therapy, begins in early morning before patients awake by emitting a low level of light that gradually increases over 30 to 90 minutes to recommended room light level (approximately 250 lux). Enhancing indoor lighting with regular lamps and fixtures is also recommended).
Newer studies from the University of Vermont suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychological treatment aimed at providing patients with tools to change negative thoughts and behaviors, may be as effective as light therapy for treating SAD. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), CBT adapted for SAD focuses on behavioral activation, helping SAD sufferers identify and engage in enjoyable seasonal activities to combat the ennui and fatigue they typically experience in winter.
Creating a consistent light-dark, sleep-wake cycle is important for SAD patients, who often experience hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness) and insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep).
Antidepressant medications. Because SAD is associated with disturbances in serotonin activity, antidepressant medications have been effectively used to treat symptoms.
Active days. Keep moving with daily walks outside, even on cloudy days, and aerobic exercise. Both can help alleviate symptoms of SAD.
Winterize your mental health
Be proactive in safeguarding your mental wellness over the coming months. Most importantly, know the symptoms of SAD and call our office for help if you’re experiencing:
- Diminished interest in things that were once enjoyable
- Low energy or overwhelming fatigue
- Difficulty with concentration or focus
- Worthless or helpless feeling
- Sleep issues: too much sleep, or not enough
- Changes in appetite or weight; increases in carbohydrate and sugar cravings
Experts advise those who’ve previously experienced episodes of seasonal depression to try to get in front of it this year. Call our office for guidance regarding medications or CBT sessions. For many, reprogramming their mindset can help restore proper circadian rhythms and eliminate the psychological dread of winter. Try enrolling in an online class, taking up a new hobby or creating a new routine to optimize daylight exposure. Or keep it even simpler. As Dr. Rosenthal recently told the New York Times, “A 20-minute early morning walk in the sun can be as good as commercial light therapy.”
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An Epidemiologist Separates Fact from Fiction and Offers Hope for the Future
Epidemiologists seek to learn why, how and when some people contract diseases when others don’t. Their findings are used to help monitor public health status, develop new medical treatments and disease prevention efforts, and provide an evidence base to healthcare and policy leaders.
Whether you feel the coronavirus is receding or set to surge, that testing is plentiful or inadequate, or that cases are reported as too high or too low may vary considerably based on where you live and your political leanings.
For an objective, no-spin perspective, we checked in with Jodie Guest, PhD, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Guest’s life’s work is studying the distribution, causes, prevention and control of diseases in populations.
Her answers to some of today’s most important questions about COVID-19 are below. Please note these reflect the situation mid-September…check our website for further updates.
Q: Are we seeing a slowdown in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.?
Dr. Guest: The number of new cases has, fortunately, plateaued or slowed down, but in many places the plateaus reflect substantially higher numbers than were reported in April, when everyone was still staying home. My concern is with schools and businesses reopening and less willingness to follow safety guidelines, the numbers may creep back up.
Q: What sites do you trust for accurate reporting on COVID-19?
Dr. Guest: I compare numbers from Johns Hopkins, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Worldometer to see if they match.
Q: What is the significance of the latest report from the CDC that just 6% of coronavirus deaths to date have COVID-19 as the only cause of death?
Dr. Guest: It’s not at all surprising for two reasons. One is that more than 60% of Americans have an underlying condition, such as obesity or diabetes. The risk of complications and hospitalization for people with two to three underlying conditions who contracted the virus is up to five times greater than for people with no [underlying] conditions. Second, death certificates list everything that may have contributed to mortality, including comorbid conditions and conditions caused by COVID-19 such as pneumonia. This does NOT mean that any of the more than 200,000 people who had heart disease or diabetes as an underlying condition didn’t actually die of COVID-19.
Q: Why are people of color and Latinos at greater risk of death from COVID-19?
Dr. Guest: This is not about a genetic risk of death. It’s driven by multiple factors, including a higher incidence of underlying conditions, less access to proper healthcare, greater risk of infection at the workplace and crowded living conditions that preclude social distancing.
Q: What is your take on the revised CDC guidelines that say testing for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 should be limited to those with symptoms?
Dr. Guest: Many of us in the public health community feel very strongly that we need to be testing asymptomatic people. From a public health perspective, more testing of asymptomatic people, not less, must be done to control the virus. NOTE: As of 9.18.20, CDC guidelines were revised again to state: “if you have been in close contact, such as within 6 feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes, and do not have symptoms, you need a test.”
Q: What are the relative risks of activity as we move forward?
Dr. Guest: There’s so much variation based on how carefully an activity is done, but there are four good rules that apply to all: Outside is safer than inside, shorter time is safer than longer, small groups are safer than bigger, and distance is safer than closeness.
Q: How might COVID-19 affect the epidemic of flu we see annually?
Dr. Guest: If we take COVID-19 prevention measures seriously – masking, social distancing, handwashing – we could have a light flu season. If we don’t, COVID-19 will make it worse. The good news is that this has already spurred many people to get their flu shots.
Q: Any other silver linings you’re seeing?
Dr. Guest: For the first time, we are having a national conversation around health disparities and inequalities. We might actually come to a reckoning and take corrective action, and that would be spectacular.
Q: What is most important for people to know about getting back to normal?
Dr. Guest: Eventually we’ll have a vaccine but we’re not going to eliminate COVID-19 completely. However, there needn’t be this level of impact on our society. I can’t emphasize enough that we have control over how this virus spreads. We need strict guidelines and most importantly, a social contract with everyone in your community. This may be the first time many of us are asking “What are we willing to do for each other?” I hope we can all rise to the challenge.
When considering whether it is safe to resume an activity, there is much variation based on how carefully an activity is done. Additional details are provided in the infographic below, courtesy of www.covid19reopen.com
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Oh, My Aching Head
A dull pressure, a sharp pain, an uncomfortable pounding, a vise-like sensation – all can signal the start of a headache. A painful part of the human condition since the beginning of time, more than 150 different types of headaches have been identified, categorized and treated in increasingly effective ways. We take a look at how to cope with the most common headaches, as well as when your symptoms indicate immediate attention is needed in this great reference guide to headache types and remedies.
It’s the rare person who hasn’t experienced the tight feeling or band-like grip around the head that characterizes a tension headache. Stress is frequently the trigger, so staving them off with recognized stress management strategies such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation may help. For immediate relief, gentle massage and use of warmth or heat to ease tense neck and shoulder muscles often work well. Over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen may also be used judiciously.
Seen more often in men, these headaches cause intense pain on one side of the head or around one eye; are often accompanied by nasal discharge or teary eyes; and occur in bouts of frequent attacks over weeks or months, followed by long periods of remission. Treatments include inhaling pure oxygen through a face mask, which often relieves pain within 15 minutes, and injectable triptan medications used to treat migraines.
Headaches experienced after strenuous exercise may result from being dehydrated or overheated or simply from overexertion, and are usually resolved quickly with rest and adequate hydration.
The pain, pressure and fullness in cheeks, brow or forehead, often accompanied by stuffy nose, fatigue and an upper toothache, can indicate a headache from sinusitis or seasonal allergies, but be aware that in many cases it is actually a migraine. Rest, fluids, decongestants and over-the-counter pain medications help alleviate headaches caused by sinusitis; those caused by an allergy will usually be treated with a nasal spray.
Each headache has its own “flavor,” but if they occur more frequently or more severely, seem to worsen with the use of over-the-counter drugs, and interfere with your normal activities, please contact us…and consider starting a headache journal that you can bring to your appointment. Track if they are occurring at certain times of day, or after specific activities or foods; e.g., after a workout, a sleepless night or a change in diet. Also note the duration of each headache; where the pain is located; the intensity and type of pain; other accompanying symptoms, such as gastrointestinal distress; and medications you used. Pre-formatted trackers can be accessed online at sites such as headaches.org.
When to seek help promptly: If your headache can be described as one of the worst you’ve ever experienced and is accompanied by trouble seeing, speaking or walking; fainting; high fever; numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body; stiff neck; or nausea or vomiting.
Inside the ‘Migraine Brain’
Despite the prevalence of migraine headaches, which affect 39 million people in the U.S. alone, their complex and multifactorial causes have made it difficult to pinpoint the most effective management of often debilitating symptoms that can include severe, pulsating pain; nausea; and visual auras. But years of research into the “migraine brain” are revealing a deeper understanding and new treatments, discussed in our Q&A with a headache expert, below.
Q: What is a migraine brain?
A: We have found it’s wired somewhat differently than the average brain, highly sensitive to light, sound and movement.
Q: Does genetics play a role?
A: Absolutely, as more than 70% of migraine sufferers have at least one close relative with the problem.
Q: What triggers a migraine?
A: Among the multiple factors are stress, hormonal shifts, time and travel changes, certain foods, inadequate nutrition, alcohol, and too much or too little caffeine. Anyone of these, or more likely, a combination, can trigger an episode. But the number one cause is the overuse of migraine medications, which triggers rebound headaches and starts a cycle of needing increasing quantities for relief.
Q: What medications are used to manage or prevent symptoms?
A: In addition to over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, a class of drugs called triptans that block pain signals in the brain have been used effectively for years. There are many other options, such as new biologic drugs to prevent or minimize the pain of migraines, including calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors and serotonin-receptor agonists.
Q: Will lifestyle adjustments make a difference?
A: There is no question that migraine patients benefit most from a set routine of healthy eating (avoiding alcohol and foods with nitrites or preservatives) and regular exercise; getting adequate sleep each night; and learning to manage stress with techniques such as biofeedback training, relaxation training and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
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The Female Factor: Alcohol is Not Gender-Neutral
Given the growing popularity of the cocktail culture and wine time, it’s important to know that alcohol affects women differently than men – physiologically, psychologically and socially. It’s worth asking: For women, is the wine glass half full or half empty when considering the risk-versus-benefit ratio?
First, there is the difference in women’s body composition. Women have more total body fat and less total body water than men. As a result, alcohol is less dispersed, resulting in a higher blood alcohol level, drink for drink, than in men.
Metabolism also plays a role
Women produce less of the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme that controls the rate at which alcohol is broken down in the body. This means a blood alcohol level that rises more quickly in women and stays elevated longer. Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol’s effects on other levels too: more likely to black out from drinking, to suffer from mood and behavioral changes and to more rapidly develop an addiction. Women may also experience higher rates of depression and anxiety, often drinking in response to negative emotions and problems with loved ones versus men’s tendency to drink for positive reinforcement and pleasure.
High Drinking Rates in Women: A Cause for Concern
All these factors make the record high drinking rates for women a real cause for concern. Problem drinking rose by 83% among women from 2002 to 2013, rapidly closing – in a most unfortunate way – a gender gap that has existed for decades. Current statistics show that 5.4 million women over 18 may be considered as having alcohol use disorder (AUD) and need treatment. However, gender plays a role here too, as women who consistently seek treatment for almost every other physical and mental health problem at higher rates than men are far less likely to do so for alcohol-related problems. Less than 1 in 10 women get formal help, hindered by the stigma of addiction and feelings of guilt or shame in not being able to function as caregiver for their family.
Alcohol’s impact on other disease is mixed. There is evidence that one drink a day may reduce women’s risk of heart attack, cardiovascular disease and the most common type of stroke. The risk of breast cancer, however, increases by 5 – 9% and rises with each additional drink per day. It’s worth noting that taking a multivitamin fortified with 400 mcg of folic acid daily may lower some of women’s elevated risk from alcohol, according to recent studies.
Alcohol in Moderation is Key
The best advice, as with most of life’s issues, is moderation. Avoid alcohol if pregnant or if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, liver disease or alcohol abuse. Otherwise, consuming one drink a day is generally healthy, so be knowledgeable about how to measure that (see below) and enjoy a glass with friends or at special events. Don’t try to match the pace of male celebrants, especially if they’re over-imbibing. In fact, gently steering them away from the bar and onto the dance floor may be the healthiest move for all.
Heavy drinking for women = more than one drink per day or seven-plus drinks per week
Did You Know?
Alcohol use disorder is characterized by symptoms such as:
· excessive time spent drinking
· needing to drink more to get the same effect
· wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else
· inability to stop drinking despite the impact on work and family
*Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
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This Too Shall Pass: Treating and Preventing Kidney Stones
More common, frequently less painful and far more preventable than reputed, kidney stones have, entered a new era of highly effective, noninvasive procedures. We bring you up to date on kidney stone treatment & prevention
Q: Why do kidney stones happen?
A: They form when substances such as calcium, oxalate, cystine or uric acid are present at high levels in urine, becoming crystals that gradually increase in size to a stone. According to the Urology Care Foundation, Calcium stones are the most common (80%), with Uric Acid and Struvite / Infection stones making up the other 20%.
Q: How likely am I to experience kidney stones?
A: One in 10 people deal with kidney stones in their lifetime, more frequently men, but in recent years, women are rapidly closing the gap. Genetic factors also play a role: if kidney stones are prevalent among your family members, you are at higher risk of developing them.
Q: Are kidney stones very painful?
A: Over the years, the pain associated with kidney stones has taken on an almost mystical aura, sometimes described as “worse than childbirth.” However, the truth is that not every kidney stone causes intense pain. Some are small enough to pass unnoticed, and many are asymptomatic and only discovered when blood is found in the urine during routine testing. Others are large but can stay in the kidney forever without incident. It is only the stones that become “stuck” on their way out of the body that cause renal colic, or waves of severe pain, which can be promptly treated with pain medication.
Q: Does back pain mean I have kidney stones?
A: This is frequently asked by patients concerned about pain felt in the flank area near the kidney. A careful history will be taken to help determine the location of the pain, but a fairly simple way to distinguish the cause is to change positions. If the pain worsens, it is more likely to be a musculoskeletal type of strain. Kidney stone pain is less likely to be positional.
Q: How do you determine if treatment is needed?
A: A noninvasive, less expensive ultrasound is used for screening, but a spiral computed tomography (CT) scan provides superior imagery used to more accurately pinpoint the stone’s location. If only a partial obstruction is seen and not much pain is involved, time is on your side and we can wait to see if the stone passes naturally. At that point, many patients can rest comfortably at home and may be given antispasmodics (such as Flomax) to relax the ureter, pain medications to manage pain and instructed to drink plenty of water to aid the stone’s passage.
Q: What if it doesn’t pass on its own?
A: It’s reassuring to realize there is no urgency to remove the stone unless the kidney is obstructed or infected or the patient is experiencing intractable pain. And when removal is indicated, urologists (specialists in diseases of the urinary tract) have a number of options available, many of them noninvasive or minimally invasive. Open surgical procedures are a rare event. Instead, an outpatient ureteroscopy can be done, using an endoscope to break up or remove the stone. Even less invasive is lithotripsy, good for small stones, which directs high-energy shock waves toward the stone and breaks it into fragments to more easily pass out of the body. For extremely large or resistant stones, a minimally invasive percutaneous nephrolithotomy is conducted to remove the stone via an endoscope inserted through a small incision in the skin.
Q: What is the best way to prevent kidney stones from forming again?
A: We can take the time to develop an individualized approach, based on your stone’s composition. First, your stone will be tested and categorized as calcium oxalate (the most common type), calcium phosphate, a mix or a non-calcium type. Also recommended is a 24-hour urine collection to form a clear picture of how the crystals form in your body, as well as blood tests for further analysis. While those who have formed stones before are at higher risk for forming a subsequent one, we know that dietary modifications tailored to stone type and – if needed – drug therapy can substantially reduce that risk. If you form calcium oxalate stones, we’ll work on a plan to avoid foods high in oxalate, such as spinach, beets and rhubarb, and keep sodium consumption at a minimum. Also important to know is that despite its role in the stone’s composition, there is no need to restrict calcium. In fact, increasing your calcium intake with higher-calcium foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese can help lower oxalate levels in the urine. Finally, keep in mind that the single best preventive measure is to simply fill a bottle with water and drink often.
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Attention Please: ADD/ADHD is Not Just a Childhood Condition
In the 21stcentury, it’s standard procedure to test unfocused, impulsive and restless children who struggle to achieve in school for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and provide support and treatment well into adulthood. But for those who came of age prior to the 1970s, that diagnosis was rarely made, leading to a lifetime of challenges. Only now, as ADHD and ADD are recognized as conditions that often do not disappear with maturity, are some seniors finally finding the answer to problems that have haunted them for years in Adult ADD.
ADD is a condition of varying degrees, and in cases of milder severity, whether in the young or older patient, can be difficult to diagnose; especially in older adults, because the symptoms are different than in children. Hyperactivity is rarely the primary indicator, although remnants are felt such as restlessness and talking too much. Most frequently experienced by adults is a tendency to be easily distracted, a decline in working memory and a lack of focused attention. As we get older, the challenge may lie in distinguishing these issues from the normal aging process, mild cognitive impairment or early dementia. Forgetting names, misplacing things, or having problems with organization and planning can be hallmark traits of ADD or an aging brain. The key to identifying the difference is longevity of symptoms. ADD doesn’t suddenly appear full-blown in an adult, but leaves a years-long trail of distraction in its wake.
What are Symptoms of Adult ADD?
Experts advise that symptoms can shift with age, but these are found fairly consistently in older adults with ADD*:
- “Swiss cheese memory,” characterized by things that slip through the cracks
- Issues with working memory, such as being easily thrown off course mid-task
- Misplacing items
- Forgetting words or names, brain going ‘blank’ periodically
- Difficulty learning new things
- Talking excessively, often without realizing it
- Interrupting others
- Trouble following conversations
- Difficulty maintaining relationships and keeping in touch
According to the organization ADDitude, a leading source of information, support and advocacy for people living with ADHD, asking this simple question – “Would you have been talking about these symptoms 20 years ago?” – can be one of the most accurate of all indicators. Patients who answer in the affirmative, remembering constantly being chided for a messy room, branded as a daydreamer or underachiever, and finding it difficult to keep organized and on time at a first job, are more likely to have previously undiagnosed ADHD. In fact, the majority would say “I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t this way.”
Gratifyingly, adults who are diagnosed with ADHD or ADD in their older years find it can be revelatory to finally identify the cause of their ongoing challenges, and receive the support they need at a particularly vulnerable life stage. Coping with ADD as a senior actually parallels the issues faced by young people with ADHD when they leave home. The loss of structure for both groups can strain their ability to adequately care for themselves, and poor sleeping or eating habits can result, which exacerbate ADHD symptoms. However, treatment which may include appropriate doses of stimulant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, has been shown to work as well for adults as children, and provide a newfound satisfaction with life.
As Dr. David W. Goodman, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland, explains: “People may ask, ‘if you’ve had this problem for so long, why bother treating it now?’ Imagine you believed yourself to be as others labeled you throughout your life – careless, irrational, a daydreamer, dumb or just plain odd. Then, you realize a treatable disorder caused these symptoms, and they aren’t a reflection of who you are. It’s liberating to understand the difference between what you have – a disorder – and who you are – a person.”
*Source: Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. presentation at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders
Did You Know?
Although ADHD and ADD is a commonly seen psychiatric condition in the US, second only to generalized depression, adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s often go undiagnosed and untreated.
Fewer than half of adults with ADHD ages 45+ have ever sought any kind of treatment and only 25% have tried medication.
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