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Depressive Symptoms

Is It Really Depression? 7 Conditions That Can Fool You

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Depression is a health threat you don't want to ignore. Growing populations at risk include caregivers looking after frail elders, people with dementia, and people living alone. Yet not all sadness, apathy, low energy, and low mood should be considered depression at work. Sometimes, depressive-type symptoms can flag a different condition.

It's good to know the warning signs of clinical depression -- but if you're worried about someone, also consider whether any of the following situations might apply.

Depression or a Thyroid Condition?

The tiny thyroid gland has a huge role. It regulates metabolism, which means virtually all the chemical reactions in the body, including those involving hormones. If metabolism is out of whack, a person doesn't function right -- or feel right -- usually without realizing why. Resulting symptoms like changes in mood, weight, and energy levels can be mistaken for many other conditions. As many as half of all thyroid disorders are therefore misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.

In a 2004 Spanish study, 34 percent of older adults with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and half of those with hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) reported feeling depressive symptoms. Women are at higher risk for thyroid disorders, possibly because they experience more hormonal changes.

What to watch: Other common symptoms of thyroid disorders include weight changes, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, new constipation or loose stools, puffy skin, and bulging eyes. Hypothyroidism sometimes follows childbirth (a period when postpartum depression may also strike).

What to do: Don't ignore depressive symptoms, whether you think you know the cause or not. A thyroid test can measure thyroid function. Hormone treatments are used to restore proper thyroid functioning.