The basic structure of the history and examination for a mood, emotion, or thought disorder is no different from that used for any medical or neurological problem. The only variation lies in how the history is obtained and how the patient answers questions and relays the clinical information. The process of response may therefore be even more important than the content of the historical details themselves. Another difference is that historical data, in a patient with a disorder of mood, emotion, or thought, often need corroboration or explication by third parties. The examiner should also obtain information about the premorbid state of the patient, including his or her development and environment, as important background on which to view the patient's current state. Personality changes are crucial indicators of mood and should be sought from family members. Progressive irritability or social withdrawal may be markers of depression, whereas new gregariousness and socializing may reflect a "decline" into mania. Finally, the time frame of the behavioral changes determines whether the event is acute, subacute, or chronic.
The presence of certain features typical of mood, emotion, or thought disorders must be pursued in a manner similar to that used for historical evaluation for any neurological or medical condition. Important details are evaluated so that pertinent positive and negative elements of the history supporting a diagnosis can be supplied. The clinician should know the symptoms of the illnesses considered in the differential diagnosis so that he or she can be sure that all pertinent questions have been asked. The history for a person with an affective illness must take into account both the mood state itself and the multiple somatic manifestations of mood disorders. Important questions about both depression and mania must be asked.
Depression is often associated with vegetative symptoms including disturbances of sleep and appetite, and loss of interest or pleasure in almost everything. Depressed people may state that they sleep excessively or insufficiently. They may note a loss of appetite or weight, or eat excessively. Because most depressed people lose energy and develop easy and excessive fatigue, these symptoms should be inquired about. Although some patients become agitated, as if they were manic, most generally do not apply this energy in useful, purposeful activities. Patients may note that their thinking ability and attention span are reduced and that their decision-making capability has plummeted. The patient may exhibit low self-esteem and feelings of guilt and may be absorbed by thoughts of death. The depressed mood may not be perceived by the patient or even by associates and may be manifested only by irritability. A sexual history is important because sexual drive may be markedly decreased as well.
Special care must be taken in the particular situation of a potentially suicidal patient, and the topic should be addressed forthrightly. Depressed patients should always be questioned about their potential for suicide. A history of suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, a suicide note, and a history of impulsive behavior are all significant risk factors.
When mania is encountered, the patient or family may note that the patient's need for sleep has declined and that the sleep schedule has changed dramatically. There may be a history of going without sleep for a few days and impaired judgment. This impaired judgment may have led
to the undertaking of huge projects based on an inflated belief in one's own power to control the outcome. The history may include details about money because large amounts may have been spent. Excessive or inappropriate sexual activity is also common.
When a patient has apathy or abulia, there is a near complete loss of feeling, initiative, movement, and thought. Very little historical information can be obtained directly from the patient, and the physician will have to rely on other family members or caretakers. In contrast, patients with anxiety and anxiety disorders often describe feelings of tension, irritability, or apprehension and may be mildly distractible during the interview. The presence of concomitant autonomic symptoms should be inquired about, including palpitations, diarrhea, cold clammy extremities, sweating, urinary frequency, insomnia, fatigue, and trembling.
Patients with psychotic disorders have a history of a grossly impaired sense of reality, often coupled with emotional disabilities. The violence-prone patient must be assessed in a safe situation, and the potential for violence should be openly acknowledged. Questions should be asked about previous episodes and the reason for the current violent outburst or threat. The interview situation must be stable and under control, with security personnel present, if necessary. During the interview, the patient may talk and act in a bizarre fashion, demonstrate delusions, or have illusions and hallucinations. During the conversation, the interviewer should note disturbances of both thought form and content. Abnormalities of thought include a loosening of associations with tangential topics of conversation. The flow of thoughts does not follow the usual orderly sequence that leads from one idea to another. Rather, it takes peculiar leaps that are difficult for listeners to follow both because the sequence is idiosyncratic and because the expressed thoughts may appear unrelated to the preceding thoughts. In addition, the content of thoughts may be bizarre. The patient may disrupt the flow of thoughts by including irrelevant information. New words, or neologisms, may be used that have no meaning. Disturbances of thought content, or delusions, may be bizarre, persecutory, or of grandeur. The patient may state that he or she believes he or she can control events through telepathy or may be convinced that there are "meanings" behind events and people's actions directed toward him or her.
Illusions are typically visual but may also be auditory or tactile. With visual illusions, the patient or family may note that the person may look at an object or person and see something other than what is actually there. The examiner should give specific examples, such as looking at a coat hanging in the closet or a light pole or lamp and perceiving a person, or looking at a bush and perceiving an animal. Similar examples involving sounds and tactile stimulation should be inquired about. Hallucinations should also be inquired about, and all sensory modalities should be investigated. Hallucinations may be unformed shapes or colors or formed images of people, animals, and objects. The images may be familiar or unfamiliar and may include relatives or friends who are living or dead, children, babies, or lilliputian figures. Threatening or frightening hallucinations may also occur and should be inquired about.
In the investigation of obsessive-compulsive behavior, the examiner should ask whether the patient experiences repeated images or ideas that are intrusive. Patients may note that these thoughts are unwanted, distressing, and occasionally frightening or violent, and that they are powerless to stop them. The examiner should ask whether the patient ruminates endlessly on certain thoughts such as whether the patient locked the door or performed other activities. The existence of rituals or compulsions should be sought. Patients should be asked if they must count, touch, or clean something to ward off unwanted happenings or to satisfy an obsession. These activities may consume a patient's whole day, rendering him or her unable to complete any necessary task.
Patients with impulse dyscontrol or aggression may not offer any complaints, yet family members may relate a detailed account. The spouse or relatives may note the patient's impulsiveness in everyday activities and an inability to resist performing inappropriate activities both at home and in public. The clinician should inquire about the use of both inappropriate words and physical actions. Additionally, family members should be asked about the presence of sudden outbursts or episodes of rage involving destructive behavior to property, abusive actions involving others, or self-mutilation.
In all settings of disorders of mood, emotion, and thought, a complete drug history is essential to uncover possible organic precipitants of behavioral changes. A medical and neurological review of systems is also crucial. Various medical conditions such as infections and endocrinopathies may present with disorders of mood, emotion, and thought, and other physical findings associated with these disorders may be helpful in arriving at the correct diagnosis. Neurologically, patients should be asked whether they have experienced asymmetrical weakness, numbness, memory problems, dysgeusia, or seizure activity, which may indicate a structural, metabolic, or infectious cause of the presentation. Finally, a family history provides important diagnostic information, since certain mental illnesses, including affective disorders, tend to be hereditary.
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