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Depression affects human body and physical health: Potential consequences

Depression affects human body and physical health: Potential consequences Illustrative photo (Getty Images)
Author: Maria Kholina

Depression is a brain disorder that can lead to severe emotional distress. Changes in brain function can also affect your body and cause a wide range of physical problems, impacting everything from your heart to your immune system.

Read below about how depression affects your body and the health issues it can cause, citing WebMD.

Connection between depression and body

Depression not only causes physical symptoms, but it can also increase the risk of or worsen certain somatic illnesses or conditions. Conversely, some illnesses can trigger depression.

Depression impacts mood and can cause several common physical symptoms, such as:

  • Increased pain, occurring in about two out of three people with depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia, lack of deep sleep, or excessive sleeping

What causes these depression symptoms? Changes in the brain affect many body systems. For example, abnormal functioning of brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, can alter your pain threshold.

This means you become more sensitive to pain, especially back pain. Serotonin also influences sleep and reduces sexual desire (nearly half of people with depression have sexual problems).

Unfortunately, people with depression, their families, and healthcare providers often overlook the physical signs and symptoms of depression. In one case, researchers found that sleep problems, fatigue, and health concerns are reliable indicators of depression in the elderly. However, these signs are often mistakenly ignored as a natural part of aging.

Depression increases risk of physical illnesses

Unfortunately, psychological disorders significantly increase the risk of other diseases and conditions, for example, by raising levels of stress hormones like cortisol or adrenaline.

This impacts the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infection. Depression is also linked to heart disease and a higher risk of substance abuse.

Many physical changes caused by depression, such as insomnia or lack of deep sleep, weaken the immune system. This can exacerbate existing illnesses.

Conversely, physical changes caused by depression or chronic illness can trigger or worsen depression. All these changes can create a vicious cycle that is hard to break without treating both depression and any other diseases.

Common illnesses that often occur with depression include:

  • Acute cardiovascular diseases
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or lupus
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Arthritis

Depression increases the risk of some of these diseases, but not always. For instance, there is no evidence that depression leads to cancer, though the two diseases often coexist.

It's also important to know that depression is not an inevitable result of serious illnesses like cancer and HIV. No, it can be controlled.

How does depression affect the course of illness once you are sick? Firstly, you are more likely to develop complications. This might be because depression exacerbates physical changes in your brain and body.

For example, if you already have heart disease, higher levels of stress hormones can make it harder for your body to repair tissues.

Depression can also make it more difficult to follow instructions, take medications, or adhere to other aspects of treatment. The pain characteristic of depression can also complicate its treatment. This means people with chronic pain tend to have the worst outcomes from depression.

This material is for informational purposes only and should not be used for medical diagnosis or self-treatment. Our goal is to provide readers with accurate information about symptoms, causes, and methods of detecting diseases. RBС-Ukraine is not responsible for any diagnoses that readers may make based on materials from the resource. We do not recommend self-treatment and advise consulting a doctor in case of any health concerns.