Living with depression can take a toll on your mental health. Research suggests it can also affect you physically and lead to pain.

Depression not only affects your mood but can also impact your physical health. The systems and hormones altered by depression can play a role in many physical responses — the most common is pain.

Changes to digestion, weight, and heart health through depression can result in painful side effects.

Depression can also worsen the pain associated with an existing chronic condition such as fibromyalgia or irritable bowel disease (IBS).

But medication, therapy, and other natural remedies can help you manage your pain symptoms and depression.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, with an estimated 21 million adults in the United States experiencing at least 1 major depressive episode in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Everyone experiences sadness on occasion, but when these feelings interfere with your daily tasks and last longer than a few weeks, you may be living with depression.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness or loneliness
  • loss of interest in relationships and experiences once enjoyed
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • eating too much or too little
  • lack of energy
  • getting too much or too little sleep
  • feelings of anger and annoyance
  • cognitive issues such as problems with concentration or memory
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Chronic pain is strongly related to stress and can lead to symptoms such as:

  • irritability
  • depression
  • low energy
  • thoughts of suicide

Pain can also be a symptom of depression and a key factor in determining whether you have depression.

According to the NIMH, depression is one of the most common conditions in people with chronic pain. Also, people with chronic conditions have a higher chance of depression.

A 2018 review suggests that depression and pain are highly intertwined and that the combination of the two can lead to poorer outcomes and a longer duration of symptoms.

Depression can lead to other physical symptoms and worsen existing chronic conditions you may have.

Reduced heart health

Depression is strongly linked to stress, which has long been associated with poor heart health.

Cortisol is a stress hormone found in elevated levels in people with depression. It increases blood pressure and heart rate, adding more stress to the heart.

This can lead to atherosclerosis (a buildup of fatty material in the walls of arteries) and an increased chance of a heart attack.

The link between reduced heart health and depression is strong.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, people living with depression have a 64% higher chance of developing coronary artery disease. Also, they’re 59% more likely to have a severe cardiovascular event (e.g., heart attack and cardiac death).

Weight fluctuation

Changes in eating habits commonly occur with depression as food (or food control) is often used as a coping mechanism when experiencing feelings of sadness and hopelessness that accompany depression.

Weight gain and loss are possible with depression. Studies have found that obesity and eating disorders have a close association with the condition.

Negative immune response

Depression can have some severe effects on your immune system. Our immune systems can adapt in response to depression by altering the levels of various immune cells.

The link between our immune systems and depression was noted in a 2016 study.

Researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) regulated proinflammatory cytokine (cell types that promote inflammation) levels while also improving depression symptoms.

Depression is also strongly associated with higher levels of inflammation, a key factor in many immune responses.

Digestive issues

Depression can also affect your digestive system. While they might seem like separate systems, your gut and brain are connected through a communication system called the gut-brain axis. The neuronal links between the gut and brain mean that damage or stress to one system can negatively affect the other.

Research from 2021 suggests that digestive conditions such as irritable bowel disease (IBD) are strongly associated with depression, which can negatively affect the prognosis of IBD.

Other digestive problems such as diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, and constipation may also be worsened or triggered by depression.

Central nervous system problems

The central nervous system comprises your brain and spinal cord, and depression can impact many conditions controlled by this system.

Depression can lead to headaches, brain fog, and body aches. Other conditions such as schizophrenia may be caused by similar disruptions to the dopamine system in the central nervous system that can also be seen in cases of depression.

Also, studies show that depression is commonly experienced in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

There’s a strong link between depression-related pain and serotonergic and norepinephrine systems, according to a 2018 review.

Serotonin and norepinephrine are hormones that play an important role in mood regulation and are often used as antidepressants.

The review found that serotonergic and norepinephrine antidepressants have demonstrated strong pain-relieving properties. Other options that may help treat pain and depression include:

If you’re living with depression and pain, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional for help. They can provide you with safe pain-relief options.

Some side effects are associated with certain pain medications, so consulting a professional before adding a pain reliever to your routine is recommended.

Depression can affect your physical health and magnify the pain of existing chronic conditions.

Though typically viewed as a mental health condition, depression’s effect on hormone regulation and other systems points to a strong connection between depression and physical response.