Depression is a widely researched disorder that affects approximately 14.8 million American adults each year. This mood disorder does not discriminate against age, gender or race, and as many as 1 in 33 children have clinical depression. If you’ve ever been seriously depressed or have known someone who has suffered from depression, you know how debilitating it can be. Depression causes severe symptoms that affect how you think, feel and handle daily activities such as sleeping, eating and working.
For years, depression has been believed to be a mental condition. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness and helplessness, and difficulty sleeping, concentrating, remembering and making decisions. Many of the symptoms of depression form in the mind, but some researchers have been working on the theory that depression is also physical.
Loyola University Medical Center psychiatrist Angelos Halaris, MD, PhD, and his colleagues found that an inflammatory biomarker known as interleukin-6 was significantly high in the blood of 48 patients diagnosed with major depression compared to 20 healthy control patients. Interleukin-6 has been associated with cardiovascular disease. Halaris explained that 40-60% of heart disease patients suffer clinical depression, and 30-50% of patients who suffer clinical depression are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The study found that stress is the key to understanding the association between depression and heart disease. Stress can lead to depression, and the body’s immune system fights stress just as it would fight a disease. It produces proteins known as cytokines, including interleukin-6. Initially, this inflammatory response protects against stress, but over time, a chronic inflammatory response can lead to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease.
After the results of his study, Halaris is proposing that psychiatrists and cardiologists work together to treat depression. In doing so, it would help lead to the detection of cardiovascular disease risk in psychiatric patients, and psychiatric problems in heart disease patients.
“It is only through the cohesive interaction of such multidisciplinary teams that we can succeed in unraveling the complex relationships among mental stress, inflammation, immune responses and depression, cardiovascular disease and stroke,” Halaris said.
Depression and Back Pain
Another recent study published in the Arthritis Care and Research Journal found that people with depression are 60% more likely to develop lower back pain. The study analyzed data from 11 studies covering a total of 23,109 people, and found a link between depression and lower back pain. The association increased in patients with more severe levels of depression.
These findings prove that depression is not only mentally debilitating, but it can lead to physically debilitating conditions as well. Other physical symptoms associated with depression are headaches, muscle aches and joint pain, chest pain, digestive problems, exhaustion and fatigue and change in appetite or weight.
Recovering from depression requires action, but choosing to take action when you’re depressed can be difficult. If you are battling depression, seek help. Whether you seek help from a doctor, a therapist, family members or friends, find people you trust and let them support you. Your mind, body and loved ones are counting on you to pull through.