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Can depression make you sick?

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How can depression cause sickness?Treatment for sicknessTreatment for depressionWhen to seek help?Summary
Depression is a mood disorder that can cause feelings of persistent sadness. It can also result in physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS
Written by Suan Pineda
Updated on

Depression is a mental health condition that characterizes a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in usual activities. These feelings can affect a person’s day-to-day life. 

The condition affects about 1 in 5 adults in the United States. In some instances, depression can make you physically sick.

The physical symptoms of depression can include:

  • fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • headaches
  • digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhea
  • changes in weight
  • sleep problems
  • low sex drive
  • changes in menstrual cycle and increased cramps

Several treatment options can help you to prevent or manage symptoms, such as antidepressant medications and talk therapies.

How can depression cause you to become sick? 

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Depression can lead to digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhea. These issues can affect your gut-brain axis, which links your central nervous system to your enteric nervous system (ENS).

The ENS controls how your gastrointestinal tract functions and is composed of up to 600 million neurons, which means that the gut reacts and responds to emotions in a similar way as your brain. 

Research has shown a link between digestive diseases like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

A 2020 study found that people with GERD had increased rates of depression and anxiety. Another 2018 study found that people with IBS have higher levels of depression. 

Other common physical symptoms of depression that can result in sickness are:

  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • headaches

According to a 2019 study, inflammation, which leads to pain, is a common denominator between fatigue and depression.

If you are experiencing physical symptoms of depression regularly, consider speaking to a healthcare professional to identify the best treatment plan for you.

How can you treat sickness symptoms?

You can treat the physical symptoms of depression by addressing the root cause — depression itself.

Treatment to relieve physical symptoms of depression includes:

  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for headaches and body aches.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and stool softeners like docusate capsules (Colace) for diarrhea and constipation.
  • Certain vitamins and supplements might help you with the symptoms of fatigue if your doctor diagnoses a deficiency and recommends them.

Your doctor may also recommend practicing lifestyle strategies like eating a balanced diet and exercising.

Treatment options for depression

The physical symptoms of depression may subside if you treat depression itself. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Antidepressant medications like:
  • Therapies that may help in the treatment of depression:
  • Lifestyle strategies play an important role in managing symptoms of depression, both physical and emotional. Multiple strategies can help ease symptoms, such as:
    • exercise
    • yoga
    • meditation
    • journaling
    • breathing exercises
    • a balanced diet
    • talking with your loved ones

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When should you speak with a doctor?

If symptoms of depression last more than 2 weeks, you should reach out to a healthcare professional. It may be challenging to reach out to a stranger for help. You can also talk with loved ones about how you’re feeling, and they may be able to help you seek out professional help. 

Summary

Depression is a mental health condition that can cause a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in usual activities. It can also result in physical symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, body pain, and headaches. You can find relief from the physical symptoms of depression by treating the root cause – depression itself, with the help of treatment methods such as antidepressant medications, natural remedies, and lifestyle measures.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

While you wait for help to arrive, stay with someone and remove any weapons or substances that can cause harm. You are not alone.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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