Depression and Physical Illness: Exploring the Connection with 4 Common Illnesses

Depression and Physical Illness: Exploring the Connection with 4 Common Illnesses

What is the relationship between depression and physical illness?

Those dealing with depression and physical illness may not be aware that some of their pain may be related to the depressive disorder. Although depression is primarily a mood disorder that affects our emotions and mental state, it can also manifest itself physically.

Science has shown that when our brain experiences emotional distress, we may also experience physical pain. For example, it is frequent to feel pain or pressure in the chest when we are suffering from heartbreak.

Many people who suffer from depression also suffer from physical illnesses often linked to symptoms of depressive disorder. So, if you’re wondering, what is the relationship between depression and physical illness? In this Integrative Healthcare Center blog, we’ll explore four physical diseases that may have a connection to depression and how to address them.

Understanding Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health provides a comprehensive definition of depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder. It is a profound mood disorder that encompasses a spectrum of symptoms, each capable of influencing various facets of an individual’s life. These facets can range from emotions and thought processes to daily functioning, sleep quality, appetite, and even professional performance.

Depression manifests in several forms, each with unique attributes and catalysts, leading to a diverse array of symptoms. Here are a few types:

  • Major Depression: This type is marked by a persistent low mood, diminished interest in activities once enjoyed, alterations in weight and appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, chronic fatigue, self-esteem issues, guilt feelings, psychomotor agitation or retardation, concentration difficulties, and thoughts of suicide. These symptoms can significantly disrupt daily life and typically persist for at least a fortnight.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder: This form of depression features less severe but more enduring symptoms, generally lasting for a minimum of two years.
  • Perinatal Depression: This term describes depression experienced by mothers during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: This variant of depression emerges and recedes in sync with seasonal variations. The depressive symptoms usually commence during the fall and winter months, subsiding in the spring and summer seasons.
  • Depression with Psychotic Symptoms: This represents a severe manifestation of depression where individuals suffer from symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

Depression and Physical Illness: What Conditions Correlate to Depression?

1. Depression and Pain

Depression, a mental health disorder, can induce physical ailments such as chronic headaches and recurrent migraines. Depression and physical illness share interconnected pathways in the brain, often leading to co-occurring symptoms. An investigation by the American Headache Society delved into the relationship between the frequency of migraines and the manifestations of depression and anxiety. The findings indicated that individuals frequently plagued by migraines, particularly those suffering from chronic forms, recorded elevated levels on depression and anxiety assessment scales. Moreover, a strong correlation was observed between the quality of sleep and these psychological symptoms, further underlining the intricate link between depression and physical illness.

The association between depression and physical illness is prominently evident in conditions such as muscle, joint, and back pain. These physical ailments can often be a direct result of the body’s stress response. When our bodies face high and sustained levels of stress, they gear up to respond by enhancing breathing, accelerating heart rate, improving blood circulation, and activating muscles. Moreover, cortisol, known as the stress hormone, facilitates the conversion of stored glycogen into glucose, thereby providing energy for the muscles. This activation of muscles leads to their rapid contraction, which may subsequently trigger muscle spasms, fatigue, and pain. Muscle and joint discomfort clearly reflect the link between depression and physical illness.

2. Depression and Digestive Issues

As previously noted, cortisol can impact bowel function by inhibiting its normal operations to maintain focus on the perceived threat or stressor. Consequently, individuals suffering from depression and physical illness frequently encounter issues such as constipation or diarrhea. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School underscores the link between our gut and brain, revealing how anxiety disorders can be directly associated with gastrointestinal complications. Given that our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions, the brain holds a direct influence over the stomach and intestines. This connection operates bi-directionally, signifying that a person’s stomach or intestinal discomfort can serve both as a cause and an outcome of anxiety, stress, or depression.

3. Depression and the Immune System

When the immune system fails to function optimally, it can leave an individual susceptible to infections. Stress and poor appetite, frequently observed as symptoms of depression, can debilitate the immune system. Furthermore, engaging in unhealthy habits such as smoking, substance abuse, and excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate this condition in individuals. A study by Frontiers in Psychology suggests that stress and depression can significantly impact our body’s functionality, disrupting the immune system and impeding our capacity to combat infections and diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The study noted that the severity of a person’s depression inversely affected the functioning of their white blood cells in combating germs and infections.

4. Depression and Cardiovascular Illnesses

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has highlighted a significant correlation between depression and physical illness, specifically concerning heart disease. Their research indicates that up to a quarter of individuals with heart disease also grapple with depression. Moreover, adults who undergo bouts of depression exhibit a higher likelihood of developing heart disease. The World Health Organization has reported that an estimated 350 million individuals globally are affected by depression. Simultaneously, heart disease claims the lives of approximately 17.3 million people each year, positioning it as the primary cause of death worldwide.

Jesse C. Stewart, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) School of Science, has emphasized that “three decades of epidemiological data suggest that depression is a precursor to heart disease.” Stewart points out that a substantial amount of evidence now exists demonstrating that adults with depressive disorders or symptoms have a 64 percent elevated risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). Additionally, patients diagnosed with CAD and depression face a 59 percent higher chance of encountering future adverse cardiovascular incidents, such as heart attacks or sudden cardiac death.

Approaching Physical Consequences with Depression Treatment

Often, individuals grappling with depression encounter resistance to traditional medication treatments, which can induce side effects impacting their physical health. At Integrative Healthcare Center, we provide an alternative for those battling depression in Nashua, New Hampshire, and the surrounding regions.

We leverage transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to address depression symptoms that frequently affect individuals’ physical health. Our patients have reported substantial enhancements in their quality of life, appetite, sleep, and mood, enabling them to perform their daily activities with increased ease and subsequently improving their physical well-being.

TMS is a safe treatment option with moderate to virtually no side effects. It has received FDA approval for treating major depressive disorder. In over half of the patients, it facilitates complete, long-term remission. Consider TMS as an additional option to surmount depression and enhance your physical health.

You can call us for a complimentary consultation at (855) 599-9987 or visit our website. Under the guidance of the professionals at Integrative Healthcare Center, you can regain control of your mental and physical health.

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