Most of us know about the emotional symptoms of depression. But many people with depression live with chronic pain or other physical symptoms, too.
These aren't "all in your head." Depression can cause real changes in your body. For instance, it can slow down your digestion, which can result in stomach problems.
Because these symptoms happen with many conditions, people with depression may never get help for them. They don't realize that their physical problems might be caused by their mental illness. A lot of doctors miss them, too.
Depression seems to be related to improper functioning of nerve cell networks or pathways that connect the brain areas that process emotional information. Some of these networks also process information for sensing physical pain. So many experts think that depression can make you feel pain differently than other people.
Any kind of chronic painmay get worse.
- Headaches are fairly common. If you already had migraine headaches, they may seem worse.
- Back pain
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Chest pain. It can be a sign of serious heart, stomach, lung or other problems. But depression can add to the discomfort.
Change in appetite or weight. Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods, like carbohydrates, and weigh more.
Dizziness or lightheadedness.
Tell your doctor about any physical symptoms: Don't assume they'll go away on their own.
Sometimes, treating your depression -- with therapy or medicine or both -- will clear up your physical symptoms. Medicines for depression "tweak" the chemicals your nerve cell networks use communicate, making them work more efficiently. Some antidepressants, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor), and older tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) or desipramine (Norpramin), may help with chronic pain, too.
But you may also need something else. For example, your doctor may suggest an anti-anxiety or sleep aid medicine for insomnia so you can relax and sleep better.
Since pain and depression can sometimes go together, easing your pain may lift your depression as well. You could try cognitive behavioral therapy. It can teach you ways to deal better with pain.