11 conditions that may be misdiagnosed as depression
Depression has a complex relationship to other chronic illnesses. Sometimes, when a patient goes to their doctor with undiagnosed symptoms, if the doctor can’t figure out exactly what’s causing them or if their symptoms overlap with the symptoms of depression (like fatigue, sleep problems, changes in appetite or weight, trouble concentrating, unexplained pain and feelings of sadness and/or anger) they may diagnose their patient with depression even though there is actually another medical issue.
At the same time, having a chronic illness can, understandably, lead to depression, or a person may have depression independent of other health conditions.
If you do have depression, it’s important for you to be diagnosed and treated for it. But if that’s not the cause of your other symptoms, yet you’re consistently told depression is to blame, you may not get the proper diagnosis or care you need.
Whether you have depression, a separate medical condition, or a condition that causes depression, know that you deserve to have the right diagnosis and treatment.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS)
EDS is a genetic condition that affects the body’s connective tissue, causing symptoms like pain, joint hypermobility, fragile skin, and things like dental and eye issues. The fatigue and difficulty exercising it can cause, along with a lack of awareness of the condition which can make it difficult for doctors to “connect the dots” of the many symptoms it causes, can lead doctors to misdiagnose EDS as depression.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread body pain, fatigue, and brain fog and does not have a definitive diagnostic test or cause, so doctors may interpret these symptoms as physical side effects of depression. In addition, fibromyalgia affects more women than men, so female patients may be brushed off and told it’s “all in their heads.”
When a patient describes having chronic pain but doctors can’t immediately find a cause, the patient may be told their pain is caused by depression or stress. But often, the pain is caused by an underlying issue, like complex regional pain syndrome, an injury, or a headache. It’s important for doctors to get to the root cause of chronic pain instead of assuming it’s “all in the patient’s head” so they can offer the proper treatment.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
People with RA experience fatigue, inflammation and swelling due to the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the tissues in its own joints. Since the condition is most commonly found in women ages 30 to 60, the symptoms may appear to be caused by depression, exhaustion or stress from work or family.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by dramatic shifts in mood, from depression to mania. But some people are only diagnosed with depression if their doctor doesn’t recognize their mania. It’s important to get the correct diagnosis so you can treat the entire condition.
Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood sugar level is too low. It is most commonly found in people who have diabetes (and diabetes itself may be misdiagnosed as depression), however, it’s also possible to become hypoglycemic without having diabetes. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, sweating, and inability to concentrate.
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)
It is quite common for people with ME/CFS to be told they are depressed, especially since there is no diagnostic test and many in the medical profession still don’t believe it exists. The post-exertional malaise, painful muscles, poor sleep and brain fog may look like depression, but are actually distinct symptoms and cannot be treated by “pushing through.”
A migraine is a neurological disorder and is known to cause head pain as well as things like nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. When you’re unable to get out of bed or go outside, and when your migraine doesn’t seem to have a specific “cause” or trigger, it may look like you are depressed or that your migraine is caused by depression (when it could actually be the other way around).
Not everyone in the medical community believes chronic Lyme disease exists, so if a person doesn’t test positive, they may be assumed to have depression if doctors can’t figure out any other potential cause of their symptoms (even though Lyme tests are not always reliable).
People with hypothyroidism have an underactive thyroid that is not producing enough thyroid hormone. This can lead to symptoms like fatigue, dry skin, brain fog, feeling cold and even depression itself. However, testing your thyroid levels and treating hypothyroidism can help improve symptoms.
A sign of her hypothyroidism is being super exhausted all the time, gaining weight despite starving and slowly spiraling into depression.
ADHD is occasionally misdiagnosed as depression, and vice versa, because many of the symptoms overlap feeling fatigued at the end of the day, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, low motivation and feeling worthless.