Dysthymia (cont.)

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What are dysthymia symptoms and signs?

In order to meet criteria for the diagnosis of dysthymia, a person must experience depression most of every day, more days than not for at least two years in a row in adults and one year for children and teens. The dysthymia sufferer will not have more than a two-month symptom-free period during the course of the illness and must experience at least two of the following signs and symptoms of this type of depression:

  • Low appetite or overeating
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Tiredness or other physical symptoms
  • Low self-esteem/feelings of inadequacy
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Hopelessness

A person with dysthymia can also have major depression but does not suffer from cyclothymia, never has the mania of bipolar disorder, or has symptoms that are better explained by another mental-health problem, the effects of a medication, drug of abuse, or medical condition.

How do health-care professionals diagnose dysthymia?

Many providers of health care may help make the diagnosis of dysthymia, including licensed mental-health therapists, pediatricians, or other primary-care providers, specialists whom one sees for a medical condition, emergency physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and social workers. One of these professionals will likely conduct or refer for an extensive medical interview and physical examination as part of establishing the diagnosis. Dysthymia may be associated with a number of other medical conditions, the result of exposure to alcohol or other drugs of abuse or as part of a general medical condition, so routine laboratory tests are often performed during the initial evaluation to rule out other causes of symptoms. Occasionally, an X-ray, scan, or other imaging study may be needed.

As part of this examination, the sufferer may be asked a series of questions from a standardized questionnaire or self-test to help assess the presence of depression. Thorough exploration for any history or presence of mental-health symptoms will be conducted such that dysthymia can be distinguished from other types of depression like major depression, depressive symptoms in reaction to stress (adjustment disorder), or depression as part of the mood swings of bipolar disorder or cyclothymia. The mental-health professional will also explore whether other forms of mental illness are present.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2015

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