Fibromyalgia sufferers are well aware of just how debilitating their illness can be. Widespread fatigue, chronic fatigue, and a host of other symptoms wear away at both your physical and mental wellbeing. What’s more, fibromyalgia can leave its victims more susceptible than others to developing other conditions. Conditions that may even worsen their current fibromyalgia symptoms. Conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also referred to as SAD, is a form of depression that only occurs during certain times of the year. The most common form of SAD is brought on by the onset of fall and winter and lasts until spring. SAD is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, over-sleeping, craving carbohydrate heavy foods, and associated overeating and weight gain.
Like all forms of depressive illness, SAD varies in its severity. In the most extreme cases, SAD can be incredibly debilitating with those affected being perfectly healthy during spring and summer, but unable to function during the winter.
It is worth noting that while the most common form of SAD is developed in response to the winter months, there are those who experience the opposite. For them, SAD begins with the start of spring and lasts until late fall.
How does SAD affect Fibromyalgia?
Experts estimate that seasonal affective disorder affects 4 to 6% of the general population, with an additional 10 to 20% experiencing mild symptoms that don’t meet the requirements for an official SAD diagnosis. The illness is more common among women than men, with 70 to 80% of all SAD diagnoses being female. Those who live in the Northern Hemisphere are more likely to suffer from SAD as well as those who have a history of psychiatric illness in their immediate family.
For those who suffer from CFS or fibromyalgia, the illness is still more common. More than 50% of fibromyalgia sufferers report symptoms relating to SAD during the winter months. SAD is known to complicate and worsen fibromyalgia causing:
- Increased muscle stiffness
- Increased anxiety
- Disturbed sleep
How to Diagnosis and Treat SAD?
If you suspect you may suffer from seasonal affective disorder be on the lookout for any of these symptoms associated with a particular time of year:
- Decreased energy
- Sleep disorders, particularly excessive sleeping
- Cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods
- Weight gain
- Loss of libido
For those who have been diagnosed with SAD, there are a number of treatments available. Many doctors recommend that those who are experiencing SAD symptoms go through light therapy. Light therapy is the first line of treatment for most cases of seasonal affective disorder. It is suspected that the decreased exposure to light during the winter months leads to a hormonal imbalance that causes SAD. To counter this, bright fluorescent lights are shone upon the patient for 30 to 60 minutes every day. Patients are free to carry on with other activities while sitting in front of the light box. Up to 80% of patients undergoing light therapy experience a dramatic improvement in their symptoms.
The other most common way of treating SAD is through the prescription of antidepressants. Antidepressants, alongside light therapy, can help to significantly reduce feelings of depression and anxiety caused by SAD. SSRIs are commonly used to help alleviate the mood disorder without exacerbating fatigue or weight gain. Antidepressants often prescribed for SAD include Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.
If you believe you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or that the illness may be worsening your fibromyalgia, it is important to talk with your physician about it as soon as possible. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor, and be sure to decide on a plan that will not have any adverse effects when combined with any other medication you may already be taking.
And remember, don’t give up. Spring is coming, and the sun will return.