9 Physical Symptoms of Depression

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living

There are obvious signs of depression, like feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety–but depression can also cause unexplained physical symptoms. Physical pain and depression are closely related. Simply put, pain can be depressing, and depression causes and intensifies pain. Some research shows that pain and depression share common pathways in the limbic (emotional) region of the brain. In fact, the same chemical messengers control pain and mood. According to an article published by the Harvard Medical School, people with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms–usually mood or anxiety disorders–and depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain.

Many people suffering from depression never get help because they don’t realize that pain may be a symptom of depression. The importance of understanding the physical symptoms of depression is that treating depression can help with the pain–and treating pain can help with depression.


Headaches. Headaches and migraine headaches are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may become worse if you’re depressed. The relationship between depression and migraine headaches, which affect more than 10 percent of Americans, is especially close. One study found that over a two-year period, a person with a history of major depression was three times more likely than average to have a first migraine attack, and a person with a history of migraine was five times more likely than average to have a first episode of depression.

Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may get worse if you become depressed. A study from the University of Alberta followed a random sample of nearly 800 adults without neck and low back pain and found that people who suffer from depression are four times as likely to develop intense or disabling neck and low back pain than those who are not depressed.


Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse. According to research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, arthritis-like physical symptoms may improve if the depression is treated with medication.


Chest pain. It’s very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart problems, but chest pain is also associated with depression. A study from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, indicates several common factors among those affected by chest pain not linked to biomedical factors such as heart disease or some other illness–depression was one of the significant common factors.

Digestive problems. Queasiness, nausea, diarrhea and chronic constipation can all stem from depression. Studies show that up to 60 percent of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also have a psychological disorder, most commonly depression or anxiety. According to one study published in General Hospital Psychiatry, those who reported symptoms of nausea were more than three times as likely to also have an anxiety disorder, and nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression. Depression is a possible cause for digestive disorders, and should be investigated before aggressive treatments are begun.


Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, do you still feel tired and exhausted? Fatigue and depression are not a surprising pair. Depression and fatigue feed off each other in a vicious cycle that makes it hard to know where one begins and the other ends. Researchers have found people who are depressed are more than four times as likely to develop unexplained fatigue, and those who suffer from fatigue are nearly three times as likely to become depressed.


Sleep disturbances. People with depression often have difficulty falling asleep, or awaken in the early hours of the morning and find themselves unable to get back to sleep. While around 15 percent of people suffering from depression sleep too much. Lack of sleep alone doesn’t cause depression, but it can contribute–and lack of sleep caused by other illness or anxiety can make depression worse.


Change in appetite or weight. Several studies have found excess weight to be linked with depression symptoms, a history of depression, and other measures of psychological distress (e.g. anxiety). Earlier studies also suggest a stronger link in women compared to men. However, this may be changing. According to 2006 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the depression-obesity link was found to be the same in both men and in women. Others suffering from depression experience a reduction in appetite and thus, weight loss.

For more on depression see:
Natural Cures for Depression
Ending Mood Disorders without Drugs

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.11 days ago

Your articles are very well written and unique. Mark Curry

Julia R.
Julia R.15 days ago

Depression can affect many areas of our bodies and that is why it is crucial to treat it or get help for it before we develop chronic pain syndrome and even other illnesses that can have such a negative impact on our health!

Roberto MARINI
Roberto MARINI22 days ago

very interesting, thank you

Kate M.
.27 days ago

I think I have really come on the right place for getting the perfect info. home security systems

Karen Martinez
Karen Martinezabout a month ago

Depression is one option for all these ailments, however, one must consult a doctor to ensure that there isn't another problem.

Agnieszka J.
Agnieszka J.about a month ago

A good article. Almost all the symptoms of depression you may notice in my sister and some doctors can't see the problem, her problems. How can I help her in everyday life?

Fi T.
Fi T.about a month ago

Consult one's doc

Gabrielle DiFonzo
Gabrielle D.about a month ago

The thing that vexes me about articles like this, and I'm sure the author was well intentioned, is that headaches, back pain, and muscle or joint aches can be a symptom of a serious underlying physical illness such as MS or a connective tissue disorder. Too often, such problems go undiagnosed for a very long time because doctors simply conclude that the patient is merely depressed, the pain is merely psychosomatic, and if you just shut up and take Prozac, all will be well. Thorough physical exams and differential diagnosis are sadly becoming a thing of the past.

Helly F.
Past Member about a month ago

This blog has something different like features, facts, stats and much more at only in one platform. life insurance

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a month ago

good to know