What causes instant mood swings

Mood swings

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Written by Wiebke Posmyk • Medical editor

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Everyone knows mood swings to a certain extent. The fact that the mood changes again and again is completely normal and depends on various factors - for example on certain events, but also on hormonal changes, for example during pregnancy or menopause. However, pronounced mood swings can also be signs of illness. Read more about the possible causes and how to manage mood swings.

Mood swings are characterized by a sudden change in mood. Slight mood swings occur in everyone on a daily basis. They are not necessarily a symptom of a disease, but are part of human life.

Only when mood swings are inappropriately strong or inappropriate are they of medical importance. Medically relevant mood swings are more than just normal moods. They are more intense and / or occur more often than in healthy people. Strong mood swings with rapid changes in mood are also referred to as mood lability or affect lability.

Mood swings: when to see a doctor?

If mood swings are unusually frequent and / or intense, you should ask a doctor for advice. The first point of contact can be the family doctor.

Mood swings: causes

Mood swings can have many causes. They can be part of a hormonal change, for example during puberty, pregnancy or menopause. They only become medically relevant when they

  • occur particularly frequently,
  • are inappropriately strong or
  • appear inappropriate.

Strong mood swings often have psychological causes, but they can also be physical.

Mood swings: Mental illness as a cause

Mood swings in an extreme form occur in people who suffer from bipolar affective disorder (formerly also manic-depressive illness). Phases of inappropriate euphoria (manic phases) alternate with phases of deep depression (depressive phases):

  • In a manic phase, the mood of the person concerned is uplifted or irritable. His drive is increased and he tends to overestimate himself.
  • On the other hand, during the depressive episode, the person has lost their drive, is depressed and no longer enjoys doing things that previously interested them. The phases can last for different lengths of time.
  • Between two such episodes there are phases in which the mood seems appropriate to the situation.

People who have depression without mania also often experience mood swings. These fluctuations usually occur over the course of a day. A typical sign of depression, albeit one that does not occur in every person affected, is the so-called morning low: In the morning, the person feels particularly sad and listless, while the mood brightens in the afternoon or evening.

Mood swings are also common with borderline disorder. It is a form of emotionally unstable personality disorder. Even the smallest of events can reverse the mood of the person concerned.

Other causes of mood swings

Other possible causes of mood swings include:

  • Dementias, e.g. B. Alzheimer's
  • strong psychological stress, e.g. B. Stress or conflict
  • Hormonal Treatments: Hormonal contraceptives like the pill can cause mood swings in women.
  • Thyroid diseases, e .g. an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism): mood swings, nervousness and weight loss are some of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid. The thyroid gland produces more hormones than the body needs.
  • Addictions, e.g. B. Alcoholism, but also nicotine addiction: addicts often appear irritable and depressed, then suddenly happy again.
  • Drug use: Noticeable mood swings and social withdrawal among adolescents can be an indication of possible substance abuse.
  • Sexual abuse: In children in particular, sexual abuse can manifest itself, among other things, in mood swings, fears and physical complaints.
  • Tumors in the brain: If there is high pressure inside the skull, this can also change the mood, among other things.

Mood swings due to hormonal changes

In the course of life, individual phases or cycles of life are associated with various hormonal changes. These changes in hormonal balance can cause severe mood swings, among other things. They are not a cause for concern, rather they are part of human existence. They only need treatment if they occur in extreme form.

Mood swings due to natural hormonal changes occur, for example, in the following phases of life:

  • puberty: The hormonal changes are often accompanied by a developmental crisis, so mood swings during puberty are quite normal.
  • pregnancy: Mood swings are not uncommon, especially at the beginning of a pregnancy. Normally, the ovarian follicles produce hormones such as estrogen. During pregnancy, the placenta gradually takes on this function. But not only this hormonal change, but also the changed life situation can lead to an unstable mood.
  • Menstrual cycle: Some women experience monthly mood swings, especially if they have premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS refers to various physical and psychological symptoms that occur about ten days to a week before menstrual bleeding
  • Menopause: The hormonal changes at the beginning of menopause can be associated with mood swings.
  • Puerperium: Many new mothers experience the so-called baby blues or howling days. The baby blues are triggered by the sudden hormonal changes after the birth. The changed hormone level and the unknown new situation cause a psychological uphill and downhill ride, which manifests itself among other things through mood swings, hypersensitivity or loss of appetite.

Mood swings: diagnosis

First, the doctor will ask a few questions (so-called anamnesis). For example, he will want to know:

  • How common are the mood swings?
  • How pronounced are the mood swings?
  • Are there certain triggers for the mood swings?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing?

In addition, various tests can be useful, for example to help identify possible depression or dementia.

In order to rule out physical causes for the mood swings, the doctor will physically examine the patient. In addition, various laboratory values ​​can provide information. The hormone level can, for example, provide information about whether there is a disease of the thyroid gland.

Depending on the cause the doctor suspects, further examinations can follow, for example EEG, EKG, MRI, CT - or a pregnancy test.

Mood swings: therapy

Mood swings usually only require therapy if they are particularly pronounced or if they recur. Mood swings that occur during pregnancy or through puberty are usually normal and not a symptom of an illness. If the mood swings occur as part of an illness, therapy may be necessary.

If mood swings occur as part of a mental illness, drug therapy may be necessary. For example, the doctor often prescribes antidepressants for people who are depressed. These drugs intervene in the brain metabolism and thus influence mood.

In the case of mental illnesses in particular, however, it is also important to get to the bottom of the root cause, so that psychological help usually makes sense - for example in the form of psychotherapy. Psychotherapeutic treatment is also required after a traumatic experience such as sexual abuse.

If a physical illness is causing the mood swings, it needs treatment. As a rule, the mood swings will then also go away. If, for example, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is the cause, certain medications, an operation or radioiodine therapy may be necessary.

Payk, T., Brüne, M .: Checklist psychiatry and psychotherapy. Thieme, Stuttgart 2017

Online information from neurologists and psychiatrists on the Internet: www.neurologen-und-psychiater-im-netz.org (access date: May 25, 2020)

Mood swings. Online information from the Pschyrembel: www.pschyrembel.de (as of April 2016)

German Society for Bipolar Disorders e.V .: Bipolar Disorders - a disease with two faces (PDF). Online publication (2016)

Möller, H., Laux, G., Deister, S .: Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy. Thieme, Stuttgart 2015

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Last content check:25.05.2020
Last change: 25.05.2020