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Deborah Wiig
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Maybe it’s not depression
Other medical conditions may be to blame


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Symptoms of illnesses that have physical causes, such as thyroid conditions and infection, can mimic those of depression. Certain medications can cause them too. Your doctor can make a diagnosis only on the information you provide, so it’s important to recognize what’s important to tell her about what you’re experiencing.

Low energy, lack of interest in things once found pleasurable, fatigue and difficulty concentrating are typical symptoms of depression. But, here are some other conditions that are characterized by similar symptoms.

“Low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) can cause depression,” says psychiatrist Jim Phelps, MD, author of Why Am I Still Depressed?.  “High levels (hyperthyroidism) can cause anxiety and agitation.”

The thyroid gland pumps out hormones that regulate metabolism, heart rate and body temperature.  Imbalances in these hormones can cause depressed mood, weight loss or gain, fatigue, memory and concentration problems –just like depression. 

“An evaluation of mood problems should include a check of your thyroid status, ” says Phelps. If your doctor doesn’t mention it, he suggests you wonder aloud about whether it might be a good idea.

Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as major depression. It’s important to diagnose it correctly, because if bipolar disorder is treated with antidepressants, your condition may not improve and can even worsen.

Other conditions that mimic depression include:

Sleep disorders, such as ongoing insomnia or sleep apnea, can contribute to depression and make it more resistant to treatment. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes snoring, interrupted breathing and fragmented sleep. The person will not remember these nighttime struggles. The disorder can be treated.

Alcohol use or abuse can cause the fatigue and fuzzy-headedness of depression. And an underlying cause of alcohol abuse can be depression.   




Doctor talking to woman.Some chronic infections (e.g. Hepatis B or C) or malignancies (including Hodgkin's lymphoma) can also cause the type of fatigue and lethargy typical of depression

Stroke and Parkinson’s Disease can cause symptoms typical of depression

Some medications can cause depression symptoms:

  • Oral steroids, such as Prednisone, often taken for asthma or joint pain
  • Hormones, such as progesterone and estrogen
  • Pain medications, such as Percocet
  • Tranquilizers, such as Valium and Xanax
  • Most blood pressure medications
  • Prescription antianxiety medications known as benzodiazepines
  • Heart medications, such as digitoxin (Crystodigin) and digoxin (Lanoxin)
  • Over-the-counter nighttime cold remedies

If you’re being evaluated by your primary care physician or a psychiatrist for what you think might be depression, be sure to discuss all your symptoms, especially physical ones, even if you don’t think they’re related. And, don’t forget to tell him or her what medications you’re taking.

Related articles
Symptoms of depression
Understanding depression
More articles

Fieve, Ronald R., (2006) Bipolar II: …The Essential Guide to Recognize and Treat the Mood Swings..., Rodale Books
Mondimore, Francis Mark, MD, (2006) Bipolar Disorder Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families (2nd Edition) Johns Hopkins University Press 
Phelps, Jim, MD, (2006) Why Am I Still Depressed? Recognizing and Managing the Ups and Downs of Bipolar II and Soft Bipolar Disorder McGraw-Hill
Walsh, Teri Hidden Cause of Fatigue & Depression,

Page updated 2014.