mood disorders

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Related to mood disorders: Anxiety disorders, Personality disorders

Mood Disorders



Mood disorders are mental disorders characterized by periods of depression, sometimes alternating with periods of elevated mood.


While many people go through sad or elated moods from time to time, people with mood disorders suffer from severe or prolonged mood states that disrupt their daily functioning. Among the general mood disorders classified in the fourth edition (1994) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) are major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia.
In classifying and diagnosing mood disorders, doctors determine if the mood disorder is unipolar or bipolar. When only one extreme in mood (the depressed state) is experienced, this type of depression is called unipolar. Major depression refers to a single severe period of depression, marked by negative or hopeless thoughts and physical symptoms like fatigue. In major depressive disorder, some patients have isolated episodes of depression. In between these episodes, the patient does not feel depressed or have other symptoms associated with depression. Other patients have more frequent episodes.
Bipolar depression or bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depression) refers to a condition in which people experience two extremes in mood. They alternate between depression (the "low" mood) and mania or hypomania (the "high" mood). These patients go from depression to a frenzied, abnormal elevation in mood. Mania and hypomania are similar, but mania is usually more severe and debilitating to the patient.
Dysthymia is a recurrent or lengthy depression that may last a lifetime. It is similar to major depressive disorder, but dysthymia is chronic, long-lasting, persistent, and mild. Patients may have symptoms that are not as severe as major depression, but the symptoms last for many years. It seems that a mild form of the depression is always present. In some cases, people also may experience a major depressive episode on top of their dysthymia, a condition sometimes referred to as a "double depression."

Causes and symptoms

Mood disorders tend to run in families. These disorders are associated with imbalances in certain chemicals that carry signals between brain cells (neurotransmitters). These chemicals include serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Women are more vulnerable to unipolar depression than are men. Major life stressors (like divorce, serious financial problems, death of a family member, etc.) will often provoke the symptoms of depression in susceptible people.
Major depression is more serious than just feeling "sad" or "blue." The symptoms of major depression may include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • A change in sleep patterns, like not sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or inappropriate guilt
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
  • Overwhelming and intense feelings of sadness or grief
  • Disturbed thinking. The person may also have physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches.
Bipolar disorder includes mania or hypomania. Mania is an abnormal elevation in mood. The person may be excessively cheerful, have grandiose ideas, and may sleep less. He or she may talk nonstop for hours, have unending enthusiasm, and demonstrate poor judgement. Sometimes the elevation in mood is marked by irritability and hostility rather than cheerfulness. While the person may at first seem normal with an increase in energy, others who know the person well see a marked difference in behavior. The patient may seem to be in a frenzy and often will make poor, bizarre, or dangerous choices in his/her personal and professional lives. Hypomania is not as severe as mania and does not cause the level of impairment in work and social activities that mania can.


Doctors diagnose mood disorders based on the patient's description of the symptoms as well as the patient's family history. The length of time the patient has had symptoms also is important. Generally patients are diagnosed with dysthymia if they feel depressed more days than not for at least two years. The depression is mild but long lasting. In major depressive disorder, the patient is depressed almost all day nearly every day of the week for at least two weeks. The depression is severe. Sometimes laboratory tests are performed to rule out other causes for the symptoms (like thyroid disease). The diagnosis may be confirmed when a patient responds well to medication.


The most effective treatment for mood disorders is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. In fact, a 2003 report revealed that people on medication for bipolar disorder had better results if they also participated in family-focused therapy. The four different classes of drugs used in mood disorders are:
  • Heterocyclic antidepressants (HCAs), like amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI inhibitors), like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI inhibitors), like phenelzine sulfate (Nardil) and tranylcypromine sulfate (Parnate)
  • Mood stabilizers, like lithium carbonate (Eskalith) and valproate, often used in people with bipolar mood disorders.
A number of psychotherapy approaches are useful as well. Interpersonal psychotherapy helps the patient recognize the interaction between the mood disorder and interpersonal relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapy explores how the patient's view of the world may be affecting his or her mood and outlook.
When depression fails to respond to treatment or when there is a high risk of suicide, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sometimes is used. ECT is believed to affect neurotransmitters like the medications do. Patients are anesthetized and given muscle relaxants to minimize discomfort. Then low-level electric current is passed through the brain to cause a brief convulsion. The most common side effect of ECT is mild, short-term memory loss.

Alternative treatment

There are many alternative therapies that may help in the treatment of mood disorders, including acupuncture, botanical medicine, homeopathy, aromatherapy, constitutional hydrotherapy, and light therapy. The therapy used is an individual choice. Short-term clinical studies have shown that the herb St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) can effectively treat some types of depression. Though it appears very safe, the herb may have some side effects and its long-term effectiveness has not been proven. It has not been tested in patients with bipolar disorder. Despite uncertainty concerning its effectiveness, a 2003 report said acceptance of the treatment continues to increase. A poll showed that about 41% of 15,000 science professionals in 62 countries said they would use St. John's wort for mild to moderate depression. Although St. John's wort appears to be a safe alternative to conventional antidepressants, care should be taken, as the herb can interfere with the actions of some pharmaceuticals. The usual dose is 300 mg three times daily. St. John's wort and antidepressant drugs should not be taken simultaneously, so patients should tell their doctor if they are taking St. John's wort.


Most cases of mood disorders can be successfully managed if properly diagnosed and treated.


People can take steps to improve mild depression and keep it from becoming worse. They can learn stress management (like relaxation training or breathing exercises), exercise regularly, and avoid drugs or alcohol.



"Family-focused Therapy May Reduce Relapse Rate." Health & Medicine Week September 29, 2003: 70.
"St. John's Wort Healing Reputation Upheld." Nutraceuticals International. September 2003.


American Psychiatric Association. 1400 K Street NW, Washington DC 20005. (888) 357-7924.
National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA). 730 N. Franklin St., Ste. 501, Chicago, IL 60610. (800) 826-3632.
National Institute of Mental Health. Mental Health Public Inquiries, 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 15C-05, Rockville, MD 20857. (888) 826-9438.

Key terms

Cognitive therapy — Psychotherapy technique designed to help people change their attitudes, perceptions, and patterns of thinking.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) — Therapy for mood disorders that involves passing electrical current through the brain in order to create a brief convulsion.
Neurotransmitter — A chemical that aids or alters the transmission of impulses between the points that connect nerves.
Serotonin — A chemical messenger in the brain thought to play a role in mood regulation.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a pervasive and sustained emotion that, when extreme, can color one's whole view of life; in psychiatry and psychology the term is generally used to refer to either elation or depression. See also mood disorders.
mood-congruent consistent with one's mood, a term used particularly in the classification of mood disorders. In disorders with psychotic features, mood-congruent psychotic features are grandiose delusions or related hallucinations occurring in a manic episode or depressive delusions or related hallucinations in a major depressive episode, while mood-incongruent psychotic features are delusions or hallucinations that either contradict or are inconsistent with the prevailing emotions, such as delusions of persecution or of thought insertion in either a manic or a depressive episode.
mood disorders mental disorders whose essential feature is a disturbance of mood manifested by episodes of manic, hypomanic, or depressive symptoms, or some combination of these. The two major categories are bipolar disorders and depressive disorders.
mood-incongruent not mood-congruent.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

mood dis·or·ders

a group of mental disorders involving a disturbance of mood, accompanied by either a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome that is not due to any other mental disorder. Mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life; it generally involves either depression or elation; for example, manic episode, major depressive episode, bipolar disorders, and depressive disorder (see separate entries for each).
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

mood dis·or·ders

(mūd dis-ōrdĕrz)
Mental illness involving a disturbance of mood, accompanied by either a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome that is not due to any other mental disorder.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012

mood disorders

Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005

Patient discussion about mood disorders

Q. Major mood disorder! Hi guys! My topic is all about major mood disorder, bipolar 1 mixed with psychotic features and I would like to ask if I could get some information regarding with its introduction on international, national and local. Hope you all understood what I mean to ask.

A. Methinks all these brain disorders have everything to do with a lack of copper. With all our modern technology and artificial fertilizers and processing of foods, the food has become so depleted of minerals that our bodies and brains have become so depleted that we cannot even function properly. Start taking kelp, calcium magnesium, cod liver oil, flax seed oil, and raw apple cider vinegar. This will bring healing and normal function to the brain and body systems. The emotions will calm down and be more manageable. If you are taking a vitamin with more manganese than copper it will add to the dysfunction. Don't waste your money. There you are! Some solutions rather than more rhetoric about the problem.

Q. Mood- disorder? What will happen to the people who refuse treatment? I know someone whose mother got diagnosed with "mood- disorder" and now this person says that she don't have it. But all her brothers and sisters have this, and are on medication. Is there a way to save our family heritage?

A. well done, i will start to collect with the agreement of Iri possible causes for disorders (bipolar, mood, whatever you want to call it) to help people to recognize themselves. they all can start in the moment we are in the embryo. parental conflicts, aggressions, sexual behaviours, drugs, alcohol, smoking in abondance can affect us from this moment on.

Q. I think that bipolar is just a mood disorder. I think that bipolar is just a mood disorder. Do I?

A. You are correct, according to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) Bipolar Disorder is a Mood Disorder. Other conditions in this category are Anxiety Disorders--and of course--Unipolar Depression.

More discussions about mood disorders
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References in periodicals archive ?
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