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SAD and How it Affects Our Patients

Dec 09, 2015

D

uring the winter months when the days are shorter, we may see an increase in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in some of our patients. There are numerous factors playing a role in our patients’ blood sugars in the month of December—colder outside and less outdoor activities, holiday eating, traveling and for some patients, seasonal depression.

Having less exposure to daylight can change your circadian rhythms and disturb your biological clock. According to WebMD SAD is more common in:

  • Women
  • People who live far from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short
  • People between the ages of 15 and 55. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age.
  • People who have a close relative with SAD

When someone has SAD they exhibit similar symptoms to depression like sadness, anxiety, sleepiness and weight gain. Due to sleep and hormonal disturbances, someone with SAD may also crave more carbohydrate rich foods. This can lead to blood sugar fluctuations. 


To diagnose SAD, the patient should have a two year history of being depressed in the winter months and then feeling better in the spring.


If you think a patient is exhibiting some symptoms of SAD, encourage them to discuss it with their doctor for an accurate diagnosis. To diagnose SAD, the patient should have a two year history of being depressed in the winter months and then feeling better in the spring. Patients should also have the symptoms of SAD like increased appetite, weight gain and sleeping more than usual. If they have a close relative with SAD, they are more likely to have it as well. 

Their doctor may recommend similar treatments used to treat clinical depression such as antidepressants and exercise. Light therapy may also help under a doctor’s supervision. I am a lover of sunlight and work frequently out of a basement office with no windows. I was looking at getting a light box to help with morning alertness and found that they are not all the same. 

Some things to think about with a light box is that it needs to be used to treat SAD and not for treatment of skin disorders because it could damage your eyes according to the Mayo Clinic. The light box should be designed to filter out most UV light and should emit a white, rather than blue, light. 

Next time you meet with a patient and they begin to tell you about how they are just not feeling as happy as usual, more tired and more hungry, you may recommend that they talk with their doctor about screening for SAD and the best treatment plan for them. 


Amy Campbell

About the Author

Amy Campbell is a dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She currently works in public health in Lexington, Kentucky and has been working in diabetes for over seven years.

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