Jul 31st 2023
Depression is a mental health condition that can cause both emotional and physical symptoms. These symptoms can have a significantly detrimental effect on an individual’s quality of life and daily functioning. However, symptoms of depression can be treated with a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care.
Depression often causes emotional symptoms such as low mood, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide. However, despite being a mental health condition, depression can also cause several physical symptoms, including pain in various areas of the body .
Many studies have found there to be a clear link between depression and physical pain. For example, people who experience severe and chronic pain conditions are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression, or major depressive disorder. Similarly, people with a diagnosis of major depression are more likely to experience physical symptoms such as pain, than those without .
This is likely due to changes in serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are involved in mitigating pain responses as well as impacting mood. As such, if an individual has altered levels of these neurotransmitters, they are more likely to experience both pain and depression .
Additionally, it is common for people with depression to also experience excessive stress or anxiety. Stress is associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response, which causes various changes in levels of chemicals in the body. These changes can result in several physical symptoms, including pain and discomfort .
Physical symptoms of depression can affect various areas and functions of the body.
Increased hunger can futher impact an individual's mental health, but these appetite changes can impact body weight and the digestive system too, causing physical symptoms such as :
Depression is also linked to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, due to changes in appetite that cause overeating, as well as inactivity .
Depression can cause significant changes in the duration and quality of sleep. This can include :
Research shows that depression is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes .
If you are experiencing physical symptoms of depression, it is advised to seek professional treatment. Although depressive symptoms can sometimes be alleviated without professional help, it is often quicker and more effective to utilize proper intervention. Similarly, untreated depression symptoms can worsen and lead to more severe issues and difficulties in functioning .
Treatment for depression typically includes therapy, medication, and self-care.
Physical symptoms often occur alongside psychological symptoms of depression. Psychotherapy can help with managing psychological symptoms, thereby also reducing physical symptoms that can occur .
Psychotherapy can provide an opportunity to explore and discuss emotional distress and the underlying causes of your condition. A therapist can help you to recognize and alter maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, to promote a more positive mindset. They can also teach coping skills to help you feel more able to manage emotional difficulties .
Antidepressant medications may be prescribed to reduce symptoms of depression. Your treatment will likely commence with a type of medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline, fluoxetine, and citalopram. These medications can help to improve mood and reduce anxiety, although they do sometimes cause physical side effects .
If you are experiencing a lot of pain alongside emotional symptoms of depression, your doctor may wish to start your treatment with serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as venlafaxine or duloxetine. This type of antidepressant has been shown to help reduce pain and other physical symptoms of depression, along with helping mood regulation .
It is advisable to contact your doctor if physical symptoms worsen or if new unpleasant symptoms emerge after starting antidepressant medication. Your doctor will be able to alter your dosage or change your medication to help find a treatment that works well for you, with the fewest side effects.
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