By Nancy Schimelpfening | Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD
While depression affects us both emotionally and mentally, creating such symptoms as feelings of sadness and problems with thinking, it can also have certain physical effects as well. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to visit their physician complaining only of their physical symptoms, making it difficult for their doctor to diagnose their depression due to the fact that several different illnesses can potentially cause these same symptoms.
Among the types of physical effects that a person with depression might experience are:
People with depression may visit their doctor complaining of vague aches and pain, such as pain in their joints, limbs or back. While a person could certainly become depressed as a result of having pain, it is also very possible that their pain and mood issues are both stemming from the same cause: dysregulation of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. In patients who are experiencing pain as a depression symptom, antidepressants that influence the reuptake of these two important molecules in the brain will be the best treatment choice.
People with depression may have symptoms like an upset stomach or they may have problems with diarrhea or constipation. The reason why these symptoms occur has to do with the fact that serotonin, which is thought to play a role in mood regulation, also has important effects in the gut.
In fact, most of the body’s serotonin is produced and stored in the gut.
When people have depression, it may feel like they just can’t get rested, no matter how much they sleep. It may be difficult to get out of bed in the morning and even the simplest of daily activities, like bathing, can begin to seem like it’s just not worth the trouble.
Changes in Psychomotor Activity
Another type of physical effect of depression is that a person may feel either heavy and sluggish or they may feel agitated and restless.
Changes in Appetite and Weight
For many, depression will bring either a loss of appetite or an increase in the desire to eat. As a result, people may either lose weight without really trying or they may begin to gain excess pounds.
Depression can cause many problems with sleep, including problems falling asleep, problems staying asleep, problems getting restful sleep and problems with sleeping too much.
Dealing With Depression’s Physical Effects
The most important step in dealing with the physical symptoms of depression is to get a proper diagnosis. If you are experiencing other potential depression symptoms, such as depressed mood or a loss of interest in doing things that you used to enjoy, don’t hesitate to mention these symptoms to your doctor. Your doctor is only human and may otherwise neglect to ask you about depression symptoms, assuming that your complaints are all in the physical realm. But, your emotional and physical symptoms could well be related to each other and this added knowledge will be necessary in order to correctly diagnose your depression.
It will also affect how your doctor chooses to treat you. A proper diagnosis will ensure that you get the best treatment for your condition and improve your chances of getting relief from your symptoms.
Bornstein, Joel C. “Serotonin in the Gut: What Does It Do?” Frontiers in Neuroscience. 6 (2012): 16.
“Depression: Recognizing the Physical Symptoms.” WebMD. WebMD, LLC. Reviewed: By Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 18, 2015.
Hellerstein, David. “Why Do People With Severe Depression Often Complain About Having Tremendous Pain in Many Areas of Their Body, Specifically Head, Stomach, Esophagus and Chest and What Causes Constipation If They’re Still Eating, But in Smaller Amounts?” Columbia Psychiatry. Columbia University Department of Psychiatry.
Mayo Clinic Staff.; “Depression (Major Depressive Disorder): Symptoms.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published: July 22, 2015.
“Recognizing and Treating Depression.” WebMD, LLC. Reviewed: By Joseph Goldberg, MD on July 13, 2015.