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Depression and Chronic Pain

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Is There a Cycle of Depression and Pain?

Pain provokes an emotional response in everyone. If you have pain, you may also have high anxiety, irritability, and agitation. These are very normal feelings when you're hurting. Normally, as pain subsides, so does the stressful response.

But with chronic pain, you may feel constantly tense and stressed. Over time, the constant stress can result in different emotional problems associated with depression. Some of the problems individuals with both chronic pain and depression have include:

  • Altered mood
  • Anger
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Confused thinking
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Family stress
  • Fatigue
  • Fear of injury
  • Financial concerns
  • Irritability
  • Legal issues
  • Physical deconditioning
  • Reduced sexual activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social isolation
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Work issues

Why Is There an Overlap Between Depression and Chronic Pain?

Some of the overlap between depression and chronic pain can be explained by biology. Depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters -- brain chemicals that act as messengers traveling between nerves. Depression and chronic pain also share some of the same nerve pathways.

The impact of chronic pain on a person's life also contributes to depression. Chronic pain can force you to struggle with tremendous losses, such as the loss of exercise, sleep, social network, relationships, sexual relationships, even a job and income. These losses can make you feel depressed.

Depression then magnifies the pain and reduces your coping skills. While you used to exercise and be active when you felt stressed, with chronic pain you can no longer deal with stress in this manner.

Research has compared people with chronic pain and depression to those who only suffer chronic pain. Those who suffer with both depression and chronic pain report:

  • More intense pain
  • Less control of their lives
  • More unhealthy coping strategies

Because chronic pain and depression are so intertwined, they are often treated together. In fact, some medications can improve both chronic pain and depression.

Is There a "Whole-Life" Approach to Treating Pain and Depression?

Chronic pain and depression can affect a person's entire life. Consequently, an ideal treatment approach addresses all the areas of your life that are affected by chronic pain and depression.

Because of the connection between chronic pain and depression, it makes sense that treatments for these conditions overlap.

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