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.