9 Physical symptoms of depression

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This is a guest post contribution by cureseveredepression.com

Depression clearly has well-known emotional symptoms, but many people aren’t familiar with physical issues that often come with the condition. However, it is important that you be aware of them.

These symptoms aren’t necessarily simply caused by a depressed imagination since depression is capable of causing real changes in your body.

Depression can affect your digestion, for instance, and can make changes to the way your brain processes pain signals and other sensory information, which can have a major effect on chronic pain conditions.

Depression itself is often a physical issue. While further research is needed, the condition is caused by interference or problems with the way the brain processes emotional information.

These problems often affect the same chemicals that regulate pain messages to the brain, which is why antidepressants can be effective for the treatment of chronic pain.

It is also another link between physical and emotional symptoms, since both can be related to the same underlying conditions in the brain.

Beyond the linkages between physical and emotional pain is the obvious fact that pain is depressing. So even if the physical link did not exist, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the two issues have an effect on each other.

It is three times as likely that people who suffer with depression will also develop chronic pain conditions, and also three times as likely that people who suffer pain will develop depression.

Whether this linkage is from an emotional or physical cause, the effect is the same. Depression worsens pain and vice versa.

Because there are such obvious emotional signs of depression, including feelings of sadness, anxiety and hopelessness, many people who are also suffering from physical symptoms don’t seek help.

However, physical symptoms can definitely affect your emotional state, so treating both is essential, and it’s also essential that you try to recognize the possibility that some of the pain or other symptoms might be related to your depression.

1) Headaches

People with depression also commonly suffer from headaches or migraines. If you already suffer migraines, they can become worse with depression. There is a particularly close relationship between depression and migraines.

Research has found that people with a history of major depression were three times more likely to develop migraines. People with migraines were five times more likely to develop a depressive condition.

2) Back pain

Depression can also worsen back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may get more severe if you become depressed. Research has shown that people with depression are four times as likely to develop back or neck pain.

3) Chest pain

Obviously, it is very important that you have pain in your chest checked immediately by a professional. Chest pain can be a signal of serious issues with the heart, lungs, stomach or other areas. However, it can also be a sign of depression.

4) Muscle and joint pain

In fact, depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse, including fibromyalgia and arthritis pain. Unfortunately, this effect will often compound with pre-existing conditions, and the two can easily feed off each other.

More pain can lead to further depression, while depression leads to more pain. It’s important, then, to treat for pain as well, so that you have a fighting chance at overcoming the depression.

5) Digestive problems

Depression can be a cause of digestive disorders, and therefore should be investigated before aggressive treatments are begun. The condition can result inqueasiness, nausea, diarrhea and/or chronic constipation.

The majority of people with irritable bowel syndrome also have either an anxiety disorder or depression. In hospitals, those who report some nausea are often three times more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder and one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression.

6) Exhaustion and fatigue

Depression will often mean that sleep, no matter how much you get, will still leave you feeling tired or exhausted. Like pain, fatigue and depression are often paired with each other, and each can feed off the other as well. As with pain, fatigue will make you depressed, and the more depression you feel, the less satisfying your sleep will be.

European research has shown that depression and fatigue work as a team to undermine your health. People who suffer from depression are four times more likely to suffer fatigue. People suffering fatigue were three times more likely to develop a depressive condition.

Researchers quickly pointed out that the two conditions have separate causes, but that doesn’t prevent them creating a vicious cycle that can be very difficult to break.

9 Physical symptoms of depression

7) Sleep disturbances

Connected to other sleep issues is the fact that depression can often make it difficult to fall asleep, or common to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep. On the other hand, people with a depressive condition can also sleep more than usual.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any more rested, since sleep, even in large quantities, can be very unsatisfying. So even though a lack of sleep doesn’t cause depression by itself, it definitely contributes to it.

8) Changes in appetite or weight

Often a depressive condition is linked to excess weight or obesity. Researchers have found that excess weight is often connected to depression, a history of depression or some other type of psychological distress like anxiety disorders.

This can be connected to a desire to eat for comfort, or the craving of certain foods—notably carbohydrates—that cause weight gain.

These studies previously found a stronger link in women, but this may not be the case anymore. More recent studies have still found a link between weight and depression, but it’s been found equally in both sexes.

It’s also possible that depression can have the opposite effect. Depressive conditions can cause an individual to lose their appetite. This naturally leads to weight loss instead of the gain that often accompanies depression.

9) Dizziness or lightheadedness

It is common for a person with a depressive disorder to experience dizziness as well. Compounded with their emotions, this will often lead to further fatigue as they try to deal with the lightheaded feeling as well. Of note is that at least one type of antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants, can also cause dizziness as a side effect.

Treating Physical Symptoms

These physical symptoms can result from many different conditions, so many depressed people will never seek help, not knowing that their symptoms might stem from their depression. For the same reasons, many doctors can miss the connection as well.

Sometimes treating the underlying cause—your depression—will also resolve the physical symptoms. There are psychological treatments that can not only help with the underlying depressive condition, but teach you better ways to manage your physical symptoms.

The most important of these is cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy is based on the assumption that what you do is based on what you’ve experienced. Pretty straight-forward and probably not something that most people would argue about.

However, what this means in practice is that the therapy attempts to deal with people’s underlying beliefs so that they are able to make the necessary changes to their behavior.

So your therapist will attempt to get you to recognize the damaging assumptions that you have and then make decisions regarding behavior knowing without letting these assumptions make the decisions for you.

It may also be suggested that you start a treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation. This sounds kind of ominous, but the procedure is non-invasive and involves stimulating the nerves in your brain through a large electromagnetic coil near the forehead. This is a relatively new technique and is generally prescribed when more traditional methods haven’t been effective.

As mentioned, there are also some drugs that treat both depression and physical effects at the same time. Because of the chemical connection between depression and pain, antidepressants can have a beneficial effect on both conditions.

There are also some straight-forward lifestyle changes that can help with depression or anxiety disorders. The most important of these is exercise. Activity releases endorphins which are the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for making you feel good.

Exercise also relaxes you and provides you with a distraction from bad feelings. It can also give you a feeling of accomplishment and gives you a feeling of control over your condition that you might not otherwise feel.

However, it’s not guaranteed that treatments for depression will also help with physical symptoms, which makes it even more important that you tell your doctor about any bodily effects that you might be suffering.

Then, if separate treatment for the physical symptoms is necessary, your doctor will know and be able to help you. For example, there are drug treatments available for anxiety and sleep disorders.

These drugs can help you relax and get more or better sleep, but they can’t be prescribed unless your doctor knows about your symptoms.

Further Reading

“Depression: Recognizing the Physical Symptoms.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/depression/physical-symptoms.

“Symptoms of Depression: 9 Physical Signs to Look out for.” Huffington Post. by Beth W. Orenstein. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/12/03/symptoms-of-depression_n_4379642.html.

“What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?” About.com. by Kendra Cherry. http://psychology.about.com/od/psychotherapy/a/cbt.htm.

“Depression Health Center: Treatment & Care.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-treatment-care.

“Depression and Anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms.” Mayo Clinic. by Mayo Clinic Staff. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495.

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