physical symptoms of depression


Physical symptoms of depression

Physical symptoms of depression. Did you think depression was just about thinking things were hopeless and feeling sorry for yourself? It is not unusual for depressed people to complain of exhaustion, sleep disruption, bowel disruption, a loss of appetite, headache or shortness of breath.

Pain is one of the most poorly understood physical symptoms of depression associated with pain include headache, back pain, neck pain, extremity/joint pain, chest pain, pelvic pain, abdominal pain, and general pain (pain where patients are unable to identify a location.

Depression is a real illness, just like diabetes or the flu. Unfortunately, the physical symptoms of this illness are poorly understood, and rarely the target of treatment. The hope is often that they will just respond to medication or abate when the depression does. Sometimes they do. However, other times the physical symptoms of depression are more complicated.

Some facts about the physical symptoms of depression and depression and pain

  • 85 percent of those with depression suffer from headaches( Bair 2003).
  • The presence of pain make it less likely that a professional with accurately diagnosis someone as suffering from depression( Bair 2003).
  • Seventy Five Percent (3/4) of those who suffer from depression have actual physical pain in addition to their emotional pain. Pain complicates the treatment of depression and is associated with worse outcomes. (Krebs E.E. 2008) We need to broaden our perspective of depression and work to understand more about the relationship between the physical symptoms of depression and its treatment.
  • Additionally people who have unexplained physical symptomlogy demonstrate increased rates of depression and anxiety( Henningsen 2003). It makes sense that the frustration of seeking help for a physical symptoms and not actually receiving it would contribute to the physical issues. However , it has also been suggested that perhaps this is part of their depression or anxiety and not a separate physical condition.
  • Most doctors are poorly trained at screening for depression, (they fail to diagnosis at least 50 percent of those suffering from major depressive disorder( Blair 2003). Although research has identified this as an issue, we still lag behind in implementing appropriate screening tools.
  • People with irritable bowel syndrome ( IBS) noulcer dyspepsia (NUD), fibromyalgia ( FM) and chronic fatigue syndrome ( CFS) have very high rates of depression and anxiety, much higher than those who suffer from other physical illnesses(Henningsen 2003). I can attest to this as many of my clients with depression also suffer from these conditions of chronic pain.
  • Our diagnostic manual includes both physical and emotional symptoms associated with major depressive disorder (Godstein DJ, 2004).
  • 80 percent of depressed patients present with unexplained physical symptoms of depression (Godstein DJ, 2004).
  • People with physical symptoms of depression and pain have more visits to specialists, take more medications, have more diagnostic procedures done (Godstein DJ, 2004).
  • Pain and physical symptoms of depression may actually be more disruptive than the emotional symptoms (Godstein DJ, 2004).
  • The interaction between depression and pain symptoms has recently been labeled as the depression-pain syndrome6 or depression-pain dyad, suggesting that the two often coexist, may respond to similar treatments, exacerbate one another, and /or share biological pathways and neurotransmitters(Bair 2003).

Treatment for the physical symptoms of depression and depression and pain

Reviews of studies done on major depressive disorder suggests that the course or the illness ( how quickly one recovers) is related to the intensity of the physical symptoms. Western medicine is not known for its wisdom when it comes to the connection between the body and mind, and psychology is no exception. Despite the fact that there are clear physical symptoms associated with depression, most people, including the professionals in the field, view and or treat depression only from the perspective of changing how we thing and behave. Thankfully, lately more and more studies exploring eastern ideas of medicine, such as mindfulness based stress reduction , yoga and meditation are being explored to help us understand how we can keep our bodies and minds healthy together.

Also, of course the pharmaceutical companies are getting in on the action by exploring medicines that that specifically target pain as a treatment for depression. Researchers are measuring pain in studies among people who are depressed to develop more specificity in the choice of medicines for people who suffer from depression and pain. Most studies on antidepressants however, have to date, ignored their effectiveness in treating depression and pain (Krebs E.E.2008).


A great page on goal setting and how it’s related to depression can be found here

More Links about Depression Here

References I used to research this page on Depression and Pain Here

Bair, M.J., MS, Robinson, R.L. MS; Katon, W , Kroenke, K Depression and Pain Comorbidity: A Literature Review Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:2433-2445.

Godstein DJ, L. Y. ( 2004). Effects of Duloxetine on Painful Physcial Symptoms Associated with Depression. Pscyhosomatics , 45, 17-28.

Henningsen, P., Zimmermann, T., Sattel, H. Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms, Anxiety, and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review.Psychosom Med 2003 65: 528-533.

Huijbregts, K. L., van der Feltz-Cornelis, C. M., van Marwijk, H. J., de Jong, F. J., van der Windt, D. M., & Beekman, A. F. (2010). Negative association of concomitant physical symptoms with the course of major depressive disorder: A systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2009.11.009

Krebs EE, Gaynes BN, Gartlehner G, Hansen RA, Thieda P, Morgan LC, DeVeaugh-Geiss A, Lohr KN. Treating the physical symptoms of depression with second-generation antidepressants: a systematic review and metaanalysis. Psychosomatics. 2008 May-Jun;49(3):191-8.


Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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