This article is Medically Approved ✓ by Dr. Edward Salko
When it comes to mental illnesses, spotting early signs is crucial for effective treatment. And one of the most common mental health threats among Americans is depression.
According to ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), over 16 million adults in the US are diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
In most cases, depression and general anxiety disorder are observed through behavioral and social changes. However, it is important to note that there are physical signs of depression that are often overlooked.
Observing the behavioral and physical signs speed up the process of diagnosing clinical depression.
As October 7 marks the National Depression Screening Day, let’s look closer into what your body tells you about depression.
Physical Signs of Depression You Need to Know
Depression is an illness that affects your overall health. It is characterized by the constant feeling of sadness and the lack of interest in carrying out any productive activities.
While it primarily impacts your mental state, your physical state is no exception. Hence, here are some of the effects of depression your body can go through.
1. Weight Changes
Emotional eating has been linked to depression.
The data gathered and presented in a study published at the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity supported the idea of emotional eating as a tendency for those who develop the likelihood of depression.
As a result, other chronic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are associated with mental illness. Therefore, the behavioral sign focusing on eating habits is accompanied by the physical sign in the form of weight gain.
On the other hand, depression does not only increase appetite. It can also decrease it drastically. This leads to sudden and quite significant weight reduction.
Nonetheless, these changes in appetite can be traced to some malfunctions in the specific regions of the brain.
According to a study led by the University of Tulsa, the significant increase in appetite results from the hyperactivation of the reward system of the brain.
On the flipside, appetite loss is linked to the hypoactivation of the regions responsible for regulating the body’s physiological state.
2. High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is associated with plenty of chronic disorders like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
While it is less likely that you would think of depression when your blood pressure goes up, it is pretty established that there is a connection between the two.
For starters, those diagnosed with hypertension mostly experience negative emotions starting from receiving the news of the condition itself.
Further research has been encouraged regarding the extensive impact of hypertension on the development of anxiety as the condition pans out.
Nonetheless, if there is one thing that hypertension and depression share, that would be stress. Blood pressure is known to increase when you get stressed out.
To cope with the troubles of stress, your body will produce hormones that promote constriction in the blood vessels.
On the other hand, frequent stressful events that start from the formative years and other environmental stressors may cause abnormal activities in the critical regions of the brain that cause depression.
A significant sign of depression is a lack of interest in performing activities. In severe cases, even the most basic tasks such as getting out of bed seem like too much of a burden.
Those who have been diagnosed with clinical depression feel too tired or experience fatigue frequently. Many factors cause this condition relative to depression.
One example is hormonal imbalance which disrupts brain activity. Such information eliminates the notion that the inability to perform fundamental tasks by those who have depression is driven by choice.
According to Dr. Maurizio Fava, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, fatigue is considered one of the prominent symptoms of MDD. He added that fatigue contributes to emotional disturbance, reduced productivity, poor concentration, and irritability.
For people who undergo depression, pain comes in different forms and levels.
Stress alone can induce emotional distress triggered by an imbalance in the production of several hormones and neurotransmitters.
While the subject of pain when it comes to depression is widely founded on personal accounts, the pathophysiological foundation of chronic body pain has been supported by research.
Physical pain and depression have a bidirectional relationship. Both are predictors of one another.
If you are in constant pain, it could lead to a drastic change in your routine, triggering negative emotions. In turn, it can potentially escalate to stress and anxiety, which set the gateway to depression.
On the other hand, depression has been known to produce pain in critical parts of the body.
Some of the most common complaints from patients diagnosed with clinical depression are backache, headache, muscle pain, and pain of cardio-respiratory nature.
5. Eye Problems
Vision is one of the senses affected when you’re diagnosed with depression. For starters, persistent sadness often leads to frequent crying. The production of tears can cause swelling and water retention around the eyes.
One eye disorder associated with depression is dry eye disease (DED).
DED is characterized by the inability to produce enough tears to lubricate the eyes. While several factors influence the development of DED, it shares common physiological abnormalities with depression, such as thyroid disorders and hormonal imbalances.
On the other hand, sudden degradation of eyesight and vision loss increases the risks for depression. This is even more aggravated for those who rely on their vision to perform critical tasks for their careers such as driving, writing, preparing food, etc.
6. Gastrointestinal Problems
The quality of food intake is linked to depression and other mental health conditions.
Aside from nutrition and the fact that several unhealthy foods can trigger an imbalance in the release of brain chemicals, gut bacteria also play a vital role in keeping your mental health stable.
A 2017 review published at Clinics and Practice Journal pointed out how inflammation and disruption in the gut microbiota (ecological community of microorganisms) have been linked to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
The relationship between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain comes as no surprise. A bidirectional pathway connects the brain running through the neural, immune, and endocrine routes called the gut-brain axis (GBA).
As a result, gastrointestinal symptoms of depression and other anxiety disorders can be noted. It can range from changes in appetite, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, indigestion, and stomachache.
Improving the gut microbiota by eating foods with good bacteria has been observed to aid in treating clinical depression.
7. Weakened Immune System
The immune system has specific responses to external and even internal threats to the body. Aside from infection, stress can also trigger these responses.
With stress directly linked to depression, the said mental illness influences the state of your immune system.
For example, a 2018 study observed how mice subjected to stressful environments tend to release inflammatory proteins.
Among patients with depression, inflammation has been consistently observed. The said condition causes mild disruption in the brain activity related to mood disorders. That’s why antidepressants often contain anti-inflammatory substances.
Frequent inflammation can cause more damage to the tissues, thus, potentially weakening the immune system.
Moreover, those who are diagnosed with clinical depression also produce weaker immune cells. Therefore, in the event of a bacterial or viral infection, your immunity will be down, causing a rapid development of certain diseases.
8. Sleeping Problems
Depression and sleep disorders often go hand-in-hand. For example, those in deep stress, anxiety, and extreme sadness have trouble achieving REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
A sleep disorder that is closely linked to depression is insomnia. As depression is triggered by external stressors such as financial worries, trauma, turbulent relationships, etc., it is pretty common for people to experience sleep deprivation due to overthinking and gut-wrenching sadness.
Nonetheless, there is a bidirectional relationship between sleeping problems and depression. The general lack of sleep, even if it is not driven by depression, can lead to mood disorders.
When you experience sleep loss, your organs can go through detrimental changes. Sufficient hormones and molecular substances may not be produced, causing cognitive distress.
If you have been losing sleep along with other indicators of depression, it is best to see your doctor as soon as possible.
The Bottom Line
Knowing the symptoms of depression, both behavioral and physical, helps medication and recovery. However, like any other disorder, the earlier the diagnosis, the more likely the treatment will become effective.
While the emotional side of mood disorders is often under the spotlight, the physical symptoms are rarely associated with depression. If anything, they are linked to other health conditions rather than depression.
While it is pretty understandable that the symptoms mentioned above are often assumed to be caused by underlying physical conditions, the high likelihood of depression can still be reason enough to request proper screening.
Likewise, other related tests involving hormones like the Thyroid Health Profile Blood Test can be instrumental in diagnosing depression.
If you detect signs of depression, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Depression can be a fatal condition. Hence, it is of utmost importance to take it seriously all the time.