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Pain Management Health Center

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Physical Pain a Sign of Depression

Pain Triples Depression Risk


"Depressed patients often present with emotional and physical symptoms: general body aches and pains, headache, abdominal pain/GI disturbances, and joint pain," Robinson says. "Painful complaints can be part of the depression and not necessarily a different, simultaneous condition. Pain is a symptom that may not have a clear source or may cut across many conditions at the same time."

Michael R. Von Korff, ScD, associate director of the Center for Health Studies at Seattle's Group Health Cooperative, has studied the relationship between pain and depression.

"There is evidence from people with both pain and depression that if the pain resolves, their depression gets better," Von Korff tells WebMD. "If their pain is chronic, their depression is more likely to stay elevated. There is also lots of evidence that people who have multiple pain problems tend to have high rates of psychological illness -- depression in particular. Are people prone to depression more likely to develop pain problems? If people who have no pain get depressed, are they more likely to develop new pain problems? There are studies supporting both sides of the issue."

There is strong evidence that antidepressant drugs relieve pain, Raison says. It takes several weeks for these drugs to have an effect on depression. It takes just as long for them to work on pain. This suggests that they act on a brain system that underlies both depression and pain.

Raison says that clinical trials of duloxetine, Lilly's new antidepressant drug, suggest that it may be particularly effective in treating physical pain associated with depression.

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