23 Ways Depression Affects Your Body


Approximately 16 percent of the adult population is affected by major depressive disorder. But despite assumptions, the condition doesn't only affect mental health. In many cases, depression can cause severe physical health issues, too—even life-threatening ones. From increasing your risk of infection to complicating your cancer diagnosis, read on to discover how depression affects the body.

It increases your risk of heart disease.

Depression hurts your heart—and not just metaphorically speaking. According to research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in 2019, both depression and heart disease are linked to elevated markers of inflammation. That means that depressed people are more likely to develop heart disease, and vice versa.

It makes your memory worse.

If your memory has started to fade by the time you reach your 50s, a history of depression may be to blame. When researchers from the University of Sussex studied data from the National Child Developmental Study in 2019, they discovered that those who experienced depressive symptoms in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, were more likely to have lost some memory function by their 50s.

It increases your blood pressure.

The health risks associated with hypertension—or high blood pressure—include conditions like aneurysms, dementia, metabolic syndrome, and heart failure. And unfortunately, there appears to be a direct correlation between depression and hypertension. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Health Psychology, people with serious depression are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure compared to those without it.

It heightens your arthritis risk.

Even your joints aren't safe from the side effects of depression. In the same 2019 Health Psychology study, researchers found that depressed subjects' risk for arthritis was 87 percent higher than those without a history of anxiety and depression. Surprisingly, being depressed is more of a risk factor for arthritis than either smoking or being overweight.

It makes you experience pain more intensely.

What may seem like a minor trauma to a person without depression can be a source of serious pain for those with the condition.

For example, when researchers at the University of Oxford tested this mental-physical link in 2010, they found that people in a negative state of mind felt pangs of pain more intensely. "When… healthy people were made sad by negative thoughts and depressing music, we found that their brains processed pain more emotionally, which lead (sic) to them finding the pain more unpleasant," study author Dr. Chantal Berna explained.

It can give you gastrointestinal issues.
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Your bathroom habits and your mental health have a direct impact on one another, too. Of course, not everyone with digestive health issues is also depressed, but the mental health condition does account for many patients' GI problems, thanks to the brain-gut connection.

In a 2011 study published in Gastroenterology and Hepatology: from Bed to Bench, researchers gave constipated patients two different psychiatric disorder screenings and found that about 27 percent of those surveyed were suffering from depression.

It triggers headaches and migraines.

One of the many risk factors for chronic headaches and migraines is depressive symptoms. In a 2018 study published in the journal Headache, researchers studied more than 400 patients with a history of migraines. They found that the more often a person had migraines, the more often they experienced anxiety and depression.

It disrupts your sleep schedule.

Depression and sleep disorders go hand in hand. The two issues are so intertwined, in fact, that a 2008 study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience noted that "a diagnosis of depression in the absence of sleep complaints should be made with caution."

According to the study, approximately 75 percent of all depressed individuals are likely to be battling insomnia, and approximately 40 percent of depressed young adults are dealing with hypersomnia—or excessive sleepiness during the daytime.

It can increase your risk of overeating.

"Overeating and obesity is often associated with depression," noted a 2014 meta-analysis published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Research indicates that many depressed individuals will eat, even when they're not necessarily hungry, to get some temporary relief from their symptoms. They're frequently drawn to high-calorie comfort foods, like doughnuts and pizza, that can lead to weight gain and other physical health complications down the line.

It can make heartburn feel more severe.

In a 2018 study published in the journal Gastroenterology, researchers tested the esophageal acidic pH values of patients with depression who self-reported as having acid reflux, too. Despite complaints of acid reflux pain, nearly half of the patients studied had normal pH values—indicating that they didn't actually suffer from the condition. So, while people with depression are no more likely to have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) than their anxiety-free counterparts, even a mild case of heartburn comes with serious—often debilitating— discomfort. That's another effect of being more sensitive to physical pain.

It can cause back pain.

If you want to alleviate your back pain, call your psychiatrist first, then your chiropractor. Why? Per a 2004 study from the University of Alberta, people with depression are four times more likely to experience debilitating neck and lower back pain compared to those with no mental illnesses.

It makes certain vaccines less effective.

Certain vaccinations have been proven not to work as well when given to patients with depression.

Take the shingles vaccine, for instance. In 2013, researchers from University of California, Los Angeles studied the immune response to the shingles vaccine in 92 people over the age of 60. They found that those who suffered from depression had less resistance to the vaccination.

It impacts your libido.

If your partner suffers from depression, don't take it personally if they're not frequently in the mood. According to Jennifer Payne, M.D., director of the Women's Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins, a loss of libido is "a key symptom" she and her team look for "when deciding if someone fits the diagnosis for major depressive episodes."

In fact, 2006 research from the Stanford School of Medicine found that anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of depressed individuals deal with sexual dysfunction.

It messes with your eyesight.

Though most people experience worsening eyesight as they age, those with depression tend to have more visual impairments than those without it.

Researchers at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg compared the eyesight of 40 people with major depression to that of 40 people who weren't depressed in 2010. In doing so, they found that the depressed individuals had a tougher time differentiating black contrasts from white contrasts.

It increases your risk of diabetes.

Along with common risk factors like weight, genetics, and age, a history of depression also makes a person more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. In a 2005 study published in the journal Diabetes Care, individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were 30 percent more likely to have had depression than those with normal blood sugar levels.

It can lead to inflammatory bowel disease.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a painful digestive condition with no current cure. And while doctors don't know the root cause of this syndrome, what they do know is that depression increases an individual's risk of developing it. When Canadian researchers looked at patients who were diagnosed with depression from 1986 to 2012, they found that these individuals were much more likely than those who never experienced depression to develop both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Fortunately, certain antidepressants were effective in protecting against IBS, so getting help could save both your sanity and your stomach.

It makes you more likely to suffer a fall.

Depressive symptoms, antidepressant usage, poor balance, and poor cognitive function are all associated with an increased risk of falling among the elderly. And according to a 2015 study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, elderly adults who exhibit any double combination of these risk factors have a 55 percent increased risk of falls. For individuals with three or four risk factors, that risk increases by 144 percent.

It can increase your dementia risk.

A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology found a direct correlation between a person's depression symptoms and their dementia risk. When the authors of the study looked at 1,764 older adults with no known memory issues and tracked them for eight years, they found that those who subsequently developed cognitive impairments were more likely to have had depression before their diagnosis. Though the natural aging process could account for some of these memory issues, the researchers believe that depression increased a person's risk of cognitive decline by approximately 4.4 percent.

It increases your stroke risk.

Anyone, regardless of their age, race, or gender, can have a stroke—but you're more likely to suffer from one if you're also dealing with depression. When researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine analyzed thousands of stroke cases in 2018, they found that the higher a person's polygenic risk of depression, the higher their risk of stroke.

It makes you more susceptible to infection.

If you want to avoid picking up every bug being passed around your home or office, treating your depressive symptoms is key. Research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2015 found that people who were depressed were at greater risk for both bacterial and viral infections.

It lowers your chances of surviving cancer.

Untreated depression may increase your risk of death following a cancer diagnosis. That's according to a 2016 study published in the journal BMJ. It revealed that individuals with high levels of psychological distress, including depression, were 32 percent more likely to die from their cancer over the nearly 10-year study period versus those experiencing few distressing symptoms.

It increases muscle pain.

That ache in your hamstring might be your depression talking. Per a 2004 study published in the Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, muscle pain is just one of the many physical symptoms associated with depression, and it's often accompanied by joint pain and headaches.

It's a risk factor for osteoporosis.
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Checking in on your mental health is a good way to start boosting your bone health, too. Per a 2009 meta-analysis published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, patients with major depression have an average of 15 percent less spinal bone mass, which is a huge risk factor for fractures and life-threatening falls. And in another 2008 Serbian study, researchers studied premenopausal women with depression and found that 45 percent of them had symptoms of osteoporosis. And for more on combating depression, check out these 20 Expert-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Every Day.

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