The Physical Symptoms Of Depression

Depression is a very tricky illness. It can mask itself in physical symptoms so that both physician and patient are unaware of what is really causing the somatic problems. What makes it even more tricky is that these symptoms are not "just in your head." In other words, depression can cause real changes in the body. This is why it is important to consult your Medical Doctor if there are persistent physical symptoms. A complete physical examination with blood and urine test will allow your MD to rule out any disease or organic process. Then, he will refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist for treatment.

Following are some examples of physical symptoms typical in depression:

1. Headaches: Common in people with depression, even  if you have migraine headaches, depression may make the pain feel worse.

2. Back pain: Depression can either cause back pain or cause suffers with back pain feel worse.

3. Muscle aches and pain can be worsened for sufferers with depression or caused by the same.

4. Chest pain: Never be your own doctor. In the event of chest pain, either see your MD or go to the emergency room. If a heart attack of condition is ruled out the pain might be the result of depression.

5. Stomach problems such as feeling, nauseous or having diarrhea or chronic constipation could be due to depression.

6. Exhaustion and fatigue regardless of the amount of sleep you get can result from depression. This is equally true for the opposite, loss of sleep.

7. Insomnia: Many people with depression complain that they do not sleep soundly.

8. Any change in appetite or weight can be caused by depression.

9. Dizziness or light-headed.

It is now known that brain chemistry plays an important role in how we feel, both emotionally and physically. For that reason, people experience such things as pain with varying intensity and tenacity.

Because depression and pain are so closely linked, pain relief can diminish depression and reduced depression can help alleviate pain.

Please be aware that anxiety and depression also go hand in hand. The combination of the two causes people to tense their body muscles thereby causing or exacerbating pain.

It is important that these problems be discussed with your physician. Either psychotherapy or anti depressant medications can alleviate the pain caused by depression and anxiety. Even if you suffer from a painful physical condition, psychotherapy can help relieve some of the pain.

Now, there are newer anti depressant medications that help with depression, anxiety and pain and psychotherapy is also an effective treatment method.

Remember, the first step is to speak to your MD.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

  • Linda Meyer

    I can most certainly relate how physical symptons can occur when a person is depressed. Headaches were the most significant physical symptom I always experienced. Eating too much and not eating at all has also been something I have done in the past. And with Bipolar, since my mood can be totally different on a given day, so can the physical pains.

    I think if everyone became aware of how they feel mentally and physically then they can become their own advocate and help identify how they react to depression. Knowing ourselves is the best thing we can do to help get us through depression...

  • Melbourne Counsellor

    Thank you for the excellent article. I see many clients in my practice that have been in and out of doctors offices for years trying to track down the origins of their muscle pains, headaches or stomach troubles. Often when the underlying depression is addressed with counselling and or medication these physical ailments begin to fade into the background. I only wish the information in this article were common knowledge.

  • Chris

    It is interesing that when people talk about depression they tend to talk about it as something exists independentally. Is there any such thing as "depression" The word seems to imply that it is fixed and may or may not exist as something outside of ourselves and not something we do to ourselves. Anyway I think to better handle depressing states is to find ways to more effectively manage our state and engage in activities that help lift us up. It is also a good idea to understand what goes on inside yourself when you feel depressed. What do you see - how do you speak to yourself and so on! We can always change what goes on inside our heads. Light sound technology (see link) can help us better regulate our internal states by helping induce an altered state. I recommend it it helps me relax and also gives me resources I feel I may be lacking. I am still working on myself and it is an ongoing process.

    It is also important not to label yourself as being a depressive! The more you reinforce that idea the more fixed it becomes. Reinforce something positive and take whatever image you have of yourself just now and take a big eraser and use it!! Then imagine someone was taking a photo of you smiling happy and glowing with energy! It is simple techniques like this that can help lift your spirits so you can begin to see yourself in a new light!

  • Sue Kulp

    How do you make someone understand that they're physical aliments may be caused by depression? My sister-in-law only addresses the physical she will not listen when I recommend she see a psychiatrist or even talk to her family doctor about this possibility. She totally blows me off even though her doctors have found no cause for her condition. I have no idea if her specialty doctors have recommended therapy. She is in bed 22 hours each day and has lost 50+ pounds since November 2009. She only gets up to eat which isn't much because she says she has food allergies. Her issues have existed for awhile, but got worse when she recently had to move form PA to TX (husband's job) and leave her family and older children (in their 20's) behind. She also experiences all of the other aliments as mentioned in your article. What should I do? How do I help without her getting mad at me? (Because she does).