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4 Health Problems Linked to Depression

How Depression Can Hurt Your Physical Health

As if chronic depression isn't difficult enough, research shows that people with long-term or untreated depression are more likely to experience additional health concerns than the general public. The reasons for this are easy to imagine:

Depression can cause isolation and sluggishness, making you less likely to exercise; it can decrease one's appetite, making you less likely to eat healthfully; and it can interfere with normal sleep patterns, which can cause a range of health issues in and of itself.

Newer evidence reveals that depression impacts the body, too. Physical effects of depression range from increased discomfort from chronic pain to a higher risk of dying from a heart attack. Being depressed can even make the discomfort of chronic pain or illness more difficult to deal with.

That’s why it’s so important to seek help if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. Often, relief from depression will boost your physical well-being, too.
Even if you’re already dealing with depression, keep an eye on these related health issues that are linked to the condition. Some are exacerbated by depression. Others are the result of long-term depression. In some cases, it’s not clear whether depression causes the health concern or vice versa, but being aware of these associations can help you escape their effects.

4 Health Problems Linked to Depression

Chronic Pain
The link between chronic pain and depression is unclear, and there is some controversy about which comes first. What has been proven is that chronic pain can exacerbate depression and severe depression can make you more susceptible to pain.

Researchers have found a link between higher levels of cytokines, molecules that facilitate intercellular communication, and depression. Cytokines can trigger an inflammatory response and, therefore, pain. While additional research is needed to clarify the relationship between pain, inflammation and depression, exercise, talk therapy and medication can help.

Heart Disease
Depression is considered a risk factor for heart disease, an increased risk of having a heart attack, and higher chances of death after a serious cardiac event. Unfortunately, even milder forms of depression have been associated with ischemic heart disease, which is caused by diminished blood supply to the heart muscle.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly how this occurs, but one clue may be found in the inflammation caused by depression, which can lead to thickening and stiffening of arterial walls—a precursor to heart disease. The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment of depression, particularly in women, can prevent these negative effects.

In older people, the link between depression and dementia is significant. A meta-analysis of this correlation, published in 2013 in the British Journal of Psychology, supports this link, with researchers noting that depressed people over age 50 are more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

How does this happen? The exact mechanism hasn’t been defined yet, but one hypothesis is that changes in blood vessels that impact brain matter cause and further both depression and dementia.

Depression is not a part of normal aging, and you can help older friends and family members by keeping a watchful eye for symptoms and asking medical caretakers to take these signals seriously. It’s never too late to seek help.

Sleeping Problems
Insomnia, like other chronic health problems, can increase one's risk of depression because it affects your day-to-day life, energy levels, and ability to focus or enjoy things. Depression can also cause sleeping patterns to change, causing you to sleep excessively or not very much at all—both of which are actually bad for your health. These sleep disruptions may be due to chemical changes in the brain that come along with depression. In addition, the same stress and anxiety that can heighten or even trigger depression can make it difficult to drift off to sleep each night.

Depending on whether you're sleeping too much—or not enough—the solutions for getting more restful sleep will vary. There are a variety of drug-free techniques that can help you improve your sleep, as well as medical interventions that can help.
Depression is devious; it can make nearly any health problem worse because it often saps your energy and motivation to care for yourself. And many chronic illnesses are accompanied by an increased risk of depression as patients adapt to the potential limitations and lifestyle changes a new diagnosis requires.

The faster you can get treatment for depression, the better. Too many people suffer needlessly without ever getting proper diagnosis or treatment. If you’re listless, having trouble sleeping, feeling helpless or hopeless, or simply not up to pursuing your usual interests, ask a physician for help.

American Heart Association, "Anxiety, Depression Identify Heart Disease Patients at Increased Risk of Dying," newsroom.heart.org, accessed on June 27, 2013.

Amos D. Korczyn, Ilan Halperin. "Depression and Dementia," Journal of the Neurological Sciences, Volume 283, Issue 1, Pages 129-142, 15 August 2009.
Alzheimer's Society, "Depression and Anxiety," www.alzheimers.org.uk, accessed on June 27, 2013.
Chapman DP, Perry GS, Strine TW. "The vital link between chronic disease and depressive disorders," Preventing Chronic Disease, 2005 Jan.
Harvard Medical School, "Too early to get up, too late to get back to sleep," www.health.harvard.edu, accessed June 27, 2013.
Mayo Clinic, "Insomnia," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on June 27, 2013.
National Institute of Mental Health, "Depression and Chronic Pain," ipsi.uprrp.edu, accessed on June 27, 2013. 
Yelizaveta Sher, Sermsak Lolak, José R. Maldonado. "The Impact of Depression in Heart Disease," Current Psychiatry Reports, (2010) 12:255–264.

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Member Comments

  • Everything is connected; mind and body.
  • The opposite can also be true- physical ailments, especially chronic ones, can cause depression.
  • I am surprised that substance abuse and other addictive behaviors are not listed. It seems this is to far reaching of a topic to lost only 4.
  • Like others I'm not so sure about the article- so does this mean I should go start drinking and smoking to get rid of my depression??? After all the both can considered to cause heart disease and some of the other problems here. As for dementia, its not so simple, Most of these are caused by a multitude of factors, a lot of them having a LOT more influence than depression.
    Odd that this article didnít mention overeating because of depression, that is major! These things go hand in hand. Experts seem to not want to mention that fact, perhaps because even the things they tell us to do will not cure us. It is a chronic disease, literally ups and downs.
  • Even as a young girl I suffered from depression. My daddy and my brother also suffered from it. For the past 20 years or has made me a prisoner in my own home! I'm going to do my best to overcome it!
    I am surprised that WEIGHT GAIN wasn't mentioned. It is just as prevalent as weight loss from depression. If you can't feel anything and are utterly numb , overeating is a way of trying to FEEL something, anything.
  • I was wondering if the author did the research on chronic illnesses that affect the brain. I have Multiple Sclerosis and I have seen the placKs* that take up home in my brain. I have many issues that contribute to depression and anxiety. I have issues with pain and reduced function of my body. It contributes to my depression and anxiety. These symptoms help me to struggle with exercise and calorie consumption. I also live on a low income life style that affects my ability to find an active lifestyle that works for me. These are some of the issues I struggle with day to day. Each day is a different day. I know that any of these activities even on a reduced function can be beneficial and for me that is where the depression and anxiety step in. I struggle to convince myself to do things that contribute to an active life. I have a art class and an environmental study that I participate in. I try to do things that make me happy. Thank you for your time to read this.

About The Author

Robin Donovan Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and magazine journalist with experience covering health, medicine, science, business, technology and design.