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Post-Transplant Depression — What It Is and What To Do.

Posted Nov 17 2012 7:54am

This is a compilation of information from various sources.  It does not constitute medical advice.  Please consult your physician about your condition and base your treatment decision on his or her advice, not on what you read here.

Post-transplant depression is real.  There are no statistics of which I am aware that indicate the percentage of organ recipients that suffer from the malady but there are enough reports of the problem to suggest it is no small number.

The extent to which your emotional health is affected by a transplant depends on a complex interplay of your health status and personality, genetic factors, social support, financial situation, and other concerns.

For most people, emotions about their experience change and evolve over time. Typically, feelings of sadness or anxiety are transient. For some, however, these feelings may persist and interfere with daily life.

According to the Mayo Clinic Depression is more than just a bout of the blues.  It isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply “snap out” of. Depression is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment, like diabetes or high blood pressure. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175

Depression is a complex disease and sometimes it is difficult if not impossible to find a reason for the problem.  One that I hear most often is guilt.  Some recipients feel guilt because, they say, someone had to die in order for them to live. Others feel guilt because they are doing well while other transplant recipients may not be so fortunate.  Those feelings sometimes proves to be a very heavy burden for many transplant recipients but it may be only one potential cause of their feelings. There are some other factors that may contribute to post transplant depression as well:

  • Anger or depression, because they don’t feel better as soon as they expected.
  • Frustration, because of chronic or lingering fatigue that keeps them from things they want to do or accomplish.
  • Mood changes caused by the drugs that must be taken following a transplant.
  • Dissatisfaction with old plans and goals. Identifying new priorities and making lifestyle changes may feel good, but can also be stressful.
  • Fear that the old illness might return and affect the new organ

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

Despite the feelings of gloom and doom, though, there is reason to be optimistic because most people with depression will eventually  feel better with medication, psychological counseling or other treatment.

Still another reason for post-transplant depression is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you’ve seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.  Obviously getting an organ transplant falls into that definition. http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/overview.html

Symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories:

1. “Reliving” the event, which upsets day-to-day activity

  • Flashback episodes, where you re-live the event so it seems to be happening again and again
  • Repeated traumatic memories of the event
  • Frequent nightmares of the event
  • Strong, uncomfortable reactions to reminders of the situation

2. Avoidance

  • Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
  • Feeling detached
  • Being unable to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Lack of interest in normal activities
  • Hiding your moods
  • Avoiding places, people, thoughts or things that remind you of the trauma
  • Feeling as though you have no future

3. Arousal

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Startling easily
  • An exaggerated response to things that startle you
  • Feeling more aware of negative things
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

If you have severe depression, a doctor, loved one or guardian may need to guide your care until you’re well enough to participate in decision making. You may need a hospital stay, or you may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until your symptoms improve. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

Here’s a closer look at your depression treatment options.

Medications
A number of antidepressant medications are available to treat depression. There are several different types of antidepressants. Antidepressants are generally categorized by how they affect the naturally occurring chemicals in your brain to change your mood. You can view the entire section on medications by following the above link to the Mayo clinic.

Types of antidepressants include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications are safer and generally cause fewer bothersome side effects than do other types of antidepressants. SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro). The most common side effects include decreased sexual desire and delayed orgasm.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications include duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq). Side effects are similar to those caused by SSRIs.
  • Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). Bupropion (Wellbutrin) falls into this category. It’s one of the few antidepressants that doesn’t cause sexual side effects.
  • Atypical antidepressants. These medications are called atypical because they don’t fit neatly into another antidepressant category. They include trazodone (Oleptro) and mirtazapine (Remeron). Both of these antidepressants are sedating and are usually taken in the evening. In some cases, one of these medications is added to other antidepressants to help with sleep. The newest medication in this class of drugs is vilazodone (Viibryd).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants. These antidepressants have been used for years and are generally as effective as newer medications. But because they tend to have more numerous and more-severe side effects, a tricyclic antidepressant generally isn’t prescribed unless you’ve tried an SSRI first without an improvement in your depression.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs — such as tranylcypromine (Parnate) and phenelzine (Nardil) — are usually prescribed as a last resort, when other medications haven’t worked. That’s because MAOIs can have serious harmful side effects. They require a strict diet because of dangerous (or even deadly) interactions with foods, such as certain cheeses, pickles and wines, and some medications including decongestants. Selegiline (Emsam) is a newer MAOI that you stick on your skin as a patch rather than swallowing. It may cause fewer side effects than other MAOIs.
  • Other medication strategies. Your doctor may suggest other medications to treat your depression. These may include stimulants, mood-stabilizing medications, anti-anxiety medications or antipsychotic medications. In some cases, your doctor may recommend combining two or more antidepressants or other medications for better effect. This strategy is known as augmentation.

Finding the right medication
everyone’s different, so finding the right medication or medications for you will likely take some trial and error. This requires patience, as some medications need eight weeks or longer to take full effect and for side effects to ease as your body adjusts. If you have bothersome side effects, don’t stop taking an antidepressant without talking to your doctor first.

Antidepressants and pregnancy
If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, some antidepressants may pose an increased health risk to your unborn child or nursing child. Talk to your doctor if you become pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant.

Antidepressants and increased suicide risk
Although most antidepressants are generally safe, be careful when taking them. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that all antidepressant medications carry black box warnings. These are the strictest warnings that the FDA can issue for prescription medications.

The antidepressant warnings note that in some cases, children, adolescents and young adults under 25 may have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks after starting an antidepressant or when the dose is changed. Because of this risk, people in these age groups must be closely monitored by loved ones, caregivers and health care providers while taking antidepressants. If you — or someone you know — have suicidal thoughts when taking an antidepressant, immediately contact your doctor or get emergency help.

Psychotherapy
Psychological counseling is another key depression treatment. Psychotherapy is a general term for a way of treating depression by talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health provider.

Through these talk sessions, you learn about the causes of depression so that you can better understand it. You also learn how to identify and make changes in unhealthy behavior or thoughts, explore relationships and experiences, find better ways to cope and solve problems, and set realistic goals for your life.

Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
In some people, depression is so severe that a hospital stay is needed. Inpatient hospitalization may be necessary if you aren’t able to care for yourself properly or when you’re in immediate danger of harming yourself or someone else. Getting psychiatric treatment at a hospital can help keep you calm and safe until your mood improves.

In this blog we have attempted to give you an overview of depression and its causes along with known effective treatment options.  Please remember, this is only a blog, it is not medical advice and we strongly suggest that you take no action based on what you read here.  See a qualified physician, ask a lot of questions and then make a decision.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.


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