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How Depression Affects Your Body

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Depression and Medical Illnesses: A Vicious Cycle continued...

Many serious illnesses or conditions coexist with depression. They include:

Depression increases the risk of some of these diseases, but not always. For example, there is no evidence to support the idea that depression leads to cancer, although the two often coexist. At the same time, it's important to know that depression is not an inevitable result of serious diseases such as cancer and HIV, or that it can't be managed.

Once you become ill, how does depression influence the course of disease? For one, you are more likely to develop complications. This may be true because depression magnifies physical changes in your brain and body. If you already have heart disease, for example, higher levels of stress hormones may make it harder for your body to do needed tissue repair.

Depression may also make it more difficult to follow instructions, take medications, or stick with other aspects of a treatment regimen. Factors like these could help explain why people with depression have a higher risk of death following a heart attack. Pain, which is common with depression, can also complicate the treatment of depression. This means people with chronic pain tend to have worse depression outcomes.

Treating Depression, Improving Health

By now, you know that your physical and mental health perform a delicate dance, greatly affecting each other. Be sure to discuss both with your doctor. The symptoms of depression and diseases may overlap. So, it's important to discuss all your symptoms and health conditions with your doctor. This will help your doctor figure out what is causing the physical symptoms -- the depression, another disease, or both. Also review any medications you're taking. Some can cause symptoms of depression. Be sure to have your mental health professional coordinate depression treatment with your other health care providers.

The good news is that depression treatment is often a "two-for-one" -- by treating the depression, you can also improve your overall health. For example, some diabetes research suggests that certain antidepressant medications and psychotherapy may help improve glycemic control, which is necessary in diabetes management. Managing depression with medication, support groups, or psychotherapy -- or a combination -- has been shown to improve quality of life as well as adherence to treatment -- but not survival -- for some cancer patients, many of whom receive no depression treatment.

If you have depression, talk with your doctor about treatment. In addition to antidepressants and talk therapy, exercise may help. Recent studies show exercise can be very effective. And, of course, it helps with many other ailments. If you're considering taking herbal remedies, be sure to discuss this with your doctor first. Some can interact in harmful ways with medications or other supplements.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 31, 2014
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