What Does Low Serotonin Feel Like?

Physical and Emotional Symptoms

Model shows the molecular structure of serotonin.
Model shows the molecular structure of serotonin. PASIEKA/Getty Images

The symptoms of fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) are all over the map. Why would one condition cause pain, fatigue, binge eating, low self-confidence, and abdominal problems? It's confusing and bewildering, not to mention way less than fun to live with!

But all of those seemingly random symptoms just might have something in common -- evidence suggests problems with how your body regulates serotonin. And they're not the only problems related to abnormalities in this substance, which is both a neurotransmitter (in your brain) and a type of hormone (in the rest of your body.)

Serotonin is a regulator of all kinds of processes, so it's no wonder that when it's out of whack, nothing is regular! That's why you feel like your body is falling apart and your symptoms don't make any sense.

Serotonin's dual nature -- neurotransmitter and hormone -- means that it's found all over your body. In fact, there's more serotonin in your gut than in your brain. That may explain why illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are extremely common in FMS and ME/CFS: IBS involves low serotonin as well.

By recognizing symptoms of low serotonin, you may be able to not only understand your crazy symptoms, but you may actually improve your chances of proper diagnosis and treatment.

Physical Serotonin-Related Symptoms

Doctors don't test you for neurotransmitter levels. Instead, they rely on symptoms for making diagnoses. For that reason, it's important for you to know what symptoms may be linked to serotonin -- otherwise, you may choose only one or two to focus on with your doctor, and that can get in the way of figuring out what's wrong.

What we call "low" serotonin may come from a couple of different causes: either your body doesn't make enough, or it doesn't use it efficiently. Either way, the result is the same.

Some of the major physical symptoms of low serotonin are:

  • Chronic fatigue in spite of adequate rest;
  • Disturbed sleep;
  • Either loss of appetite or carb cravings, possibly due to the body's attempt to make more serotonin;
  • Hot flushes and temperature changes that aren't linked to your environment;
  • Headaches;
  • Stomach pains.

Certainly, many of these symptoms can crop up in anyone's life from time to time. The key here is to recognize whether you have clusters of symptoms that tend to occur together. Serotonin levels can fluctuate over time, leading to symptom flares and remissions (times when symptoms are gone or at low levels.)

Emotional Serotonin-Related Symptoms

The presence of emotional symptoms in no way implies that FMS or ME/CFS are psychological illnesses. In fact, we know that they both include numerous physiological abnormalities. FMS is generally considered a neurological condition and both of these illnesses are sometimes called neuroimmune diseases or neuroendocrinimmune diseases.

It's true that serotonin (and many other neurotransmitters) are also involved in mental illness, such as major depressive disorder. Even in these cases, they represent a physiological problem. Neurotransmitters are also involved in numerous non-psychological conditions, including Parkinson's disease.

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in sex,
  • Social withdrawal,
  • Sadness and frequent crying spells,
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence,
  • Loss of personality,
  • Feeling emotionally sensitive and taking things personally,
  • Irritability.

If your sadness and other emotional symptoms are especially pronounced, you should talk to your doctor about depression. It's common in FMS and ME/CFS, as it is in all chronic, debilitating illness.

Again, look for symptom clusters that could indicate low serotonin.

I Think My Serotonin is Low. Now What?

If you think your serotonin is low, talk to your doctor. You may need to consider treatments that raise your available amount of serotonin.

Probably the most common treatment is medication: antidepressants such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs), or tricyclics. Some supplements and your diet can influence serotonin as well.

For more information, on treatment options, see:

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