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Adjustment Disorder

Definition:
Adjustment disorder is an excessive reaction to a stressful event or situation. This reaction seriously impairs social and occupational functioning. The disorder is different from other mental illnesses in that its duration is relatively brief. Symptoms appear within three months of the stressor, and generally resolve within six months after the stressor has ended.

There are several subtypes of the disorder, including adjustment disorder with:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Mixed anxiety and depressed mood
  • Disturbance of conduct
  • Mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct
Causes:
Adjustment disorders develop in reaction to stressful life events or major life changes. Relationship problems, financial difficulties, family conflict, school issues, work changes, major life changes, health problems, and sexuality issues are all common stressors.

Risk Factors:
Adjustment disorders develop in reaction to stressors, and can affect individuals of all ages. Certain individuals may have a predisposition or vulnerability that can play a part in the risk of occurrence and how the disorder presents.

Factors such as genetics, flexibility, intelligence, social skills, and coping strategies can all affect how susceptible an individual is to stress. The stressor itself may also interfere with an individual’s support network. In children, boys and girls are at equal risk for adjustment disorders, while women are thought to be at higher risk than men.

Symptoms:
Symptoms may vary, but are similar in that the reaction is worse or more excessive than expected to the stressor. In order for a diagnosis of adjustment disorder to be made, symptoms must interfere with an individual’s social or work functioning.

Symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety or worry
  • Feeling of inability to cope
  • Feeling of inability to plan ahead
  • Feeling of inability to continue in present situation
  • Some degree of disability in the performance of daily routine
  • Conduct disorders
  • Disturbance of other emotions and conduct
Diagnosis:
Your doctor will perform an evaluation to assess whether your symptoms follow a recent stressful event, and if the symptoms are more severe than what is normal for you. You will also be evaluated to make sure there is no underlying disorders or disease, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment:
The main goal of treatment is to resolve symptoms, and return the individual to his or her normal level of functioning. Treatment is important so that the disorder doesn’t become a larger illness, like major depression. Treatment options include the following:

Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy, or counseling, is the primary treatment for adjustment disorders. Therapy is used to help individuals understand why the stressful event caused the symptoms, and to develop coping mechanisms for future stressors. Therapy is generally short-term and can take any of the following forms: individual therapy, family therapy, behavior therapy, or group therapy.

Medications
Medications may be used in combination with therapy to alleviate common symptoms. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed on a short-term basis until the symptoms resolve.

Prevention:
While there is no known way to prevent adjustment disorders, the prognosis is good. Adjustment disorders generally resolve with treatment and time without remaining symptoms.
 
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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