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Dysthymia is a chronic type of depression in which a person's moods are regularly low. However, symptoms are not as severe as with major depression.
The exact cause of dysthymia is unknown. It tends to run in families. Dysthymia occurs more often in women.
Many people with dysthymia have a long-term medical problem or problems such as anxiety, alcohol abuse, or drug addiction. Most people with dysthymia will also have an episode of major depression at some point in their lives.
Dysthymia in the elderly is often associated with difficulty caring for oneself, isolation, or medical illness.
The main symptom of dysthymia is a low, dark, or sad mood on most days for at least 2 years. In children and adolescents, the mood can be irritable instead of depressed and lasts for at least 1 year.
In addition, two or more of the following symptoms will be present almost all of the time that a person has dysthymia:
People with dysthymia will often take a negative or discouraging view of themselves, their future, other people, and life events. Problems often seem more difficult to solve.
Your health care provider will take a history of your mood and other mental health symptoms. The health care provider may also check your blood and urine to rule out medical causes of depression.
There are a number of things you can try to improve dysthymia:
Medications are often effective for dysthymia, though they sometimes do not work as well as they do for major depression, and may take longer to work.
Don’t stop taking your medicine on your own, even if you feel better or have side effects. Always call your doctor first.
When it is time to stop your medicine, you and your doctor will slowly reduce the dose instead of stopping suddenly.
People with dysthymia may also be helped by some type of talk therapy. Talk therapy is a good place to talk about feelings and thoughts, and to learn ways to deal with them. Types of talk therapy include:
Joining a support group for people who are having problems like yours can also help. Ask your therapist or health care provider to recommend a group.
Dysthymia is a chronic condition that can last for years. Though many people completely recover, others continue to have some symptoms, even with treatment.
Dysthymia also increases the risk for suicide.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Call for help immediately if you or someone you know develops these symptoms, which are signs of a suicide risk:
Fava M, Cassano P. Mood disorders: major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 29.
Review Date: 9/17/2012
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc. David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY.
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