Feeling sad from time to time is a normal part of life, but being depressed is a very different thing. It can cause a variety of symptoms – both emotional and physical – that persist and affect a person’s day-to-day life.
Depression is a common illness. About 6.7 percent of adults in the United States have depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Worldwide, an estimated 350 million people of various ages suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization.
People who have depression experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loneliness and/or a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed. All these feelings can interfere with the person’s ability to function properly and has a dramatic effect on their quality of life.
While most people are aware of these emotional symptoms, physical symptoms related to depression are often ignored because they are not seen as connected.
To understand depression, you need to be aware of the physical signs, too. This can help in getting timely diagnosis and treatment.
Here are some of the physical signs of depression you might not expect.
1. Weight Loss or Gain
Depression affects the hormones that regulate appetite and can make you want to eat more or less than you usually do. Also, sleep issues associated with depression can compound the problem, since sleep deprivation can mess with those same hunger and fullness hormones.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology reports that depressed people are at significantly higher risk for developing obesity than people without depression. The risk among depressed people for later obesity was particularly high for adolescent females. These findings resulted from reviewing data from 16 studies.
If you or someone around you experiences a relatively sudden change in weight, see a doctor to look into the cause, including the possibility of depression.
2. Aches and Pains
Sometimes, muscle or joint pain can be due to depression. When you hold your feelings inside, they eventually come out physically in the form of body pain. Whether it’s a headache or back pain, suppressed emotions can manifest as physical pain.
A 2014 study published in PLOS ONE found that patients with a current or remitted depressive and/or anxiety disorder and those with more severe symptoms have more disabling pain and pain of a cardio-respiratory nature as compared to people without a depressive or anxiety disorder. However, this warrants further research.
In some cases, pain also leads to depression. For instance, if you have a lot of pain while walking or doing household work, it can make you feel low.
According to a 2005 study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people with fibromyalgia are 3.4 times more likely to have major depression than people without fibromyalgia.
Back pain is also common in people with anxiety and mood disorders. This happens because depressed people have a habit of slouching, which causes back pain.
3. Stomach Issues
There is also a strong connection between digestive problems – bloating, constipation, irritable bowel and others – and depression.
The gut is particularly responsive to your mood states. Also, the nerve cells in your gut manufacture 80 to 90 percent of your body’s serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter.
On top of that, depressed people tend to eat sugar-loaded foods that stimulate inflammation of the brain and cause an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in the gut.
A 2011 study by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers and published in PLOS ONE suggests that some psychological conditions like depression may be the result, rather than the cause, of gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A 2014 study published in the Annals of Gastroenterology reports that anxiety and depressive disorders are associated with both IBS and ulcerative colitis. The non-specific association between these psychological and gastrointestinal disorders also suggests that chronic gastrointestinal illness might affect psychosocial behavior.
In a more recent 2016 study published in PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed data from a representative sample of 6,483 U.S. teenagers and found that some physical diseases tend to occur more frequently in children and adolescents if they previously suffered from certain mental disorders. Depression was also frequently followed by arthritis and digestive system diseases.
4. Trouble Sleeping
Depression may cause a wide range of insomnia symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), difficulty staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia) and daytime sleepiness.
Depression often comes with a lack of energy and an overwhelming feeling of fatigue, which can be among the most debilitating symptoms of depression. Surprisingly, as tired as you may feel, depression can affect your sleep quality.
The lack of quality, restful sleep can also lead to anxiety and make your condition worse.
A 2008 study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience reports that subjective and objective sleep disturbance in depression is prevalent, distressing and often unresolved by treatment. Sleep disturbance indicates significant alterations in brain neurotransmitter function, as well as leading to significant impairments in quality of life.
Another study published in 2009 in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice further proved the prevalence of sleep problems in people with depression. Researchers found that out of 531 patients with depression, 97 percent reported experiencing insomnia. Of those, 59 percent reported that lack of sleep severely affected the quality of their lives.