Depression Complications

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 27, 2022
5 min read

Are you worried about depression complications? Even for people who suffer with milder forms of depression, this mood disorder can affect many facets of their life. Clinical depression can complicate serious health conditions such as heart disease or cancer. Depression can lead to problems with pain, sexual desire and performance, and sleep. The more you know about depression complications, the more you'll understand why it's important to not let clinical depression go untreated.

Depression is a condition that generally is associated with being "stuck" in a mood of sadness or grief accompanied by a number of physical symptoms. Everyone gets sad from time to time. But clinical depression, which comes in many different forms, is typically characterized by a longer-than-normal duration of this sad or morose mood.

Symptoms of depression can vary with the type of depression a person has. While there are several types of depression, these are some of the more common symptoms:

  • Persistently sad mood, "feeling blue"
  • Feelings of hopelessness and a pessimistic outlook on life
  • Guilty feelings, feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of libido
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Decreased appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other social activities
  • Fatigue, decreased energy
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pains

People with chronic medical illnesses have difficulty adjusting to the demands of the illness. At the same time, they need to focus on the treatments for their medical condition. But chronic illness may affect a person's mobility and independence. And it can change the way a person sees them or themselves as well as the way the person relates to the outside world. So it's not surprising that studies indicate that as many as one out of every three people with a serious medical condition reports experiencing depression.

Clinical depression is one of the most common complications associated with chronic medical illnesses. In some cases, a chronic illness may actually trigger depression.

Depression caused by chronic illness often complicates that condition. That's especially true if the chronic illness is already causing some degree of pain and disruption in the person's life. Depression causes fatigue and a decrease in energy that may grow worse over time. Depression also has a tendency to force people to withdraw into social isolation.

However, clinical depression is not simply a normal response to a chronic medical condition.  Rather, people who are biologically vulnerable to the disease of depression may be at greater risk for developing it in the setting of certain stresses, including a chronic medical illness.  When the depressed mood occurs alongside problems coping with a stressful situation, including a chronic or serious medical illness, but other symptoms of major depression are not present, doctors often diagnose an "adjustment disorder" or "acute stress disorder.

Any chronic condition may contribute to depression. There is, however, an increased risk with the severity of the illness and the level of disruption it causes. Statistically, the risk of depression is generally 10% to 25% for women and 5% to 12% for men. However, people with chronic illnesses face a significantly higher risk -- between 25% and 33%.

The rate for depression occurring with other medical illnesses is quite high and depends on many factors, especially a past history of depression. Here are some examples:

  • With heart attack, 40% to 65% of patients experience depression.
  • The rate of depression for both Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis is 40%.
  • As many as 25% of patients with cancer and patients with diabetes experience depression.
  • In patients with coronary artery disease who have not had a heart attack, the rate of depression ranges from 18% to 20%.
  • For stroke patients, the rate ranges from 10% to 27%.

Clinical depression causes many physical symptoms, including physical pain. The mind controls the body, and a person's emotions can have an impact on the body's major functions. Pain associated with depression can range from unexplained headaches to neck pain to abdominal pain.

Both depression and some depression medications can cause sexual problems. Depression has a tendency to reduce the sex drive and affect personal relationships. On top of that, some depression medications have been shown to also reduce libido or sexual functioning.

Studies have shown that some antidepressant medications can have an adverse effect on your sexual desire. Ingredients in some antidepressants interfere with the chemicals that are responsible for sexual response.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Depression and Sex.

Insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep) is a major symptom of depression. The inability to get a good night's sleep can have serious consequences on the human body. This is especially true if someone already has other depression symptoms such as fatigue and low energy. Some people with clinical depression also find that they oversleep (a condition called hypersomnia) and may still be tired the next day.

Someone who suffers from insomnia for a long period of time should be checked for other symptoms of depression. Sleep medications are sometimes prescribed for people suffering from depression and insomnia.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Sleep and Depression.