"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Are these mood swings an indication of something more serious?

Irritability, sadness, or apathy may indicate one other condition.

Image: Thinkstock

Mood changes that last for a very long time is usually a sign of depression and even dementia.

Causes and symptoms

Mood and stress are regulated by brain structures, networks, and chemical neurotransmitter systems. Damage to any of those can manifest as mood swings. “For example, disease of the small blood vessels in the brain can change the brain's white matter. This can disrupt brain connections that are important for normal mood and behavior,” says Dr. Donovan.

Mood swings can reflect a psychological disorder. For example, depression may cause sadness, irritability, anxiety, and lack of interest and happiness. Mood swings can be brought on by a medical condition, resembling thyroid disease or a neurological condition. “At our neuropsychiatry clinic at Brigham and Women's Hospital, patients with dementia often come in for treatment for apathy, depression, anxiety and other behavioral changes,” says Dr. Donovan.

Sometimes sleep disorders may cause mood swings. Too little restful sleep can result in irritability and anxiety. or mood symptoms could also be unwanted effects of the medication. For example, the steroid medication prednisone (Deltasone, Prednicot) may cause nervousness or mood changes.

What do you have to do?

If you're experiencing a big mood change that lasts greater than a couple of weeks, or for those who notice it in a loved one, it might be time to see a mental health skilled. A medical evaluation may include an individual's medical history, a physical exam, and sometimes tests to gather brain images. If dementia is suspected, a neuropsychologist may have to perform additional tests to find out if there are any significant changes in pondering abilities.

Treating mood symptoms will address their underlying cause. For example, if it's a depressive disorder, your doctor may prescribe psychotherapy, an antidepressant resembling citalopram (Celexa), or each. If sleep deprivation is suspected, your doctor may prescribe a greater sleep hygiene program or refer you for a sleep test. If the medication causes mood changes, your doctor may switch you to a different sort of medication.

The take home message is that it is best to not ignore the symptoms. “Don't hesitate to talk to your doctor and get an evaluation, because there are effective treatments available for mood symptoms and their causes,” says Dr. Donovan.