When you think of the stereotypical depression sufferer, you no doubt think of someone who is struggling with emotional symptoms and depressed mood. Depression causes feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt, and hopelessness, and it can drain your ability to feel joy or delight. But if you’ve experienced depression yourself, you’ll know it’s not just an emotional and mental ailment. Depression causes physical symptoms too, mostly unexplained aches and pains, but also fatigue, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems.
Why? It has to do with the way depression affects brain function. Serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters implicated in depressive disorders, do more than just regulate mood. They may also be responsible for controlling pain responses throughout the body and even for promoting heart, bone, and blood health. These neurotransmitters also have a role to play in regulating libido, appetite, and the sleep cycle.
Physical Symptoms of Depression
- Headaches and migraines.
People who get migraines are more vulnerable to depression, and people with depression are more likely to get migraines and other headaches.
Depression also has a way of intensifying headache pain.
- Chest pain.
Chest pain isn’t always a sign of depression — it can indicate heart, lung, or stomach problems. But when chest pain is otherwise unexplained, depression may be its cause.
- Joint, back, and muscle pain.
If you already suffer from chronic pain or have old injuries, depression can make these aches and pains worse. Fibromyalgia, an inflammatory condition characterized by muscle soreness, often also causes emotional depression.
- Fatigue and low energy.
Whether you’re losing sleep or sleeping too much, depression is likely to make you feel constantly tired. This is part of the reason why depressed people often don’t want to get out of bed.
- Digestive upset.
Constipation, unexplained nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive problems may occur with depression.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia.
You may find that depression has robbed you of the ability to get a good night’s sleep, but you may also be one of the 15 percent of depression sufferers who sleep much more than usual.
- Weight gain or loss.
Changes in appetite that occur with depression can cause you to crave carbohydrates and other foods that cause weight gain. Alternatively, you may no longer feel like eating at all, and lose weight.
While it used to be thought that depressed patients who experience a lot of physical symptoms were somehow in denial about their emotional symptoms, it’s now clear that’s not the case. Instead, depression has a definite physical component. In addition to the symptoms listed above, depression can increase your risk of heart disease or, if you already have a heart problem, it can make you more likely to die of it. It can affect your blood’s ability to clot and speed up the progression of osteoporosis. What’s more, doctors think that in as many as 50 percent of depression cases, physical symptoms are more prominent than emotional ones.
Neurotransmitters Have Work to Do Throughout the Body
Depression’s physical symptoms may come about as a result of its effect on levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine within the brain. Researchers are now discovering that these neurotransmitters don’t just guarantee proper functioning of many regions of the brain, but also of many body systems and organs.
The brainstem creates serotonin and norepinephrine, which then rises up through neural pathways to the frontal cortex, where it regulates mood and cognitive function. It also moves to the hypothalamus, where it regulates the sleep cycle, the appetite, and the libido. But it also travels down the spinal cord and throughout the body, where it aids with digestion and controls pain in the muscles and bones, among other functions. When depression diminishes levels of these neurotransmitters, there aren’t enough to go around, and physical symptoms appear.
Treating Depression’s Physical Symptoms
The role of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in mitigating pain may explain why many antidepressants have analgesic properties — in fact, tricyclic antidepressants like Norpramin or Elavil are regularly prescribed to chronic pain patients. For many, treatment with antidepressants can relieve both the mental and physical symptoms of depression.
But, it’s important to completely relieve physical depression symptoms. If they remain, it means you’re not completely well and you’re more vulnerable to the long-term physical complications of depression — like heart disease — as well as a full relapse of symptoms. Medications like Abilify can help make other antidepressants more effective in patients who are suffering from treatment-resistant depression. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any physical symptoms of depression you may be experiencing, including insomnia, so you can receive adequate treatment. If you’re having trouble affording your medications, you may be able to buy generics at CanadaDrugPharmacy.com.
You may also want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you learn to cope with the physical and mental symptoms of depression. This therapy teaches you a set of skills that could help you experience long-term remission from depression. Regular physical exercise can also help relieve pain by producing endorphins, and there’s some evidence that it’s good for relieving mild to moderate depression.
The pain of depression isn’t just in your head. It can extend to your whole body and cause irreversible, even lethal, damage to your health. Unexplained aches, pains, and ailments may be signs of depression even if you don’t have emotional or mental symptoms. Make sure you talk to your doctor about treating the physical as well as the emotional symptoms of your depression, so you can get the complete relief you deserve.