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Healthline Physical Health

How does depression affect the body?

The effects of depression may extend beyond a person’s emotions and mental health. Depression can also affect a person’s physical health.
In this article, learn about these physical effects of depression, including chronic pain, weight changes, and increased inflammation.

What is depression?

Depression is a complex mental health condition that causes a person to have low mood and may leave them feeling persistently sad or hopeless.
Depressive symptoms can be a temporary experience in response to grief or trauma. But when the symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, it can be a sign of a serious depressive disorder.
The same symptoms can also be a sign of another mental health condition, such as bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists the following symptoms of depression:
  • depressed mood on most days, including feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • too little or too much sleep most days
  • unintended weight loss or gain or changes in appetite
  • physical agitation or feelings of sluggishness
  • low energy or fatigue
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • intrusive thoughts of death or suicide
The symptoms vary between individuals and may change over time. For a doctor to diagnose depression, a person must have five or more symptoms that must be present during the same 2-week period.

Physical symptoms of depression

Research has documented many ways that depression can affect physical health, including the following:

Weight gain or loss

People with depression may experience appetite changes, which can cause unintended weight loss or gain.
Medical experts have associated excessive weight gain with many health issues, including diabetes and heart disease. Being underweight can harm the heart, affect fertility, and cause fatigue.

Chronic pain

People with depression may experience unexplained aches or pains, including joint or muscle pain, breast tenderness, and headaches.
A person’s depression symptoms can worsen because of chronic pain.

Heart disease

Depression can reduce a person’s motivation to make positive lifestyle choices. Their risk of heart disease increases when they eat a poor diet and have a sedentary lifestyle.
Depression may also be an independent risk factor for heart health problems. According to research published in 2015, one in five people with heart failure or coronary artery disease has depression.
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