Q. Glen, Is Pain a Symptom of Depression or a Cause?
A. Pain is depressing, and depression causes and intensifies pain.
People with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms — usually mood or anxiety disorders — and depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain. When low energy, insomnia, and hopelessness resulting from depression or anxiety perpetuate and aggravate physical pain, it can be impossible to tell which came first or where one leaves off and the other begins.
Pain slows recovery from depression, and depression makes pain more difficult to treat. For example, depression may cause patients to drop out of pain rehabilitation programs. So it often makes sense to treat both pain and depression; that way they are more likely to recede together.
Normally, the brain diverts signals of physical discomfort so that we can concentrate on the external world. When this shutoff mechanism is impaired, physical sensations like pain are more likely to become the center of attention. Brain pathways that handle pain signals use some of the same chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that are involved in the regulation of mood. (See Nerve Cell Communication for more information.)
When these pathways start to malfunction, pain is intensified, along with sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. And as chronic pain, like chronic depression, takes root in the nervous system, the problem perpetuates itself. The mysterious disorder known as fibromyalgia may be an example of this kind of biological process linking pain and depression. Its symptoms include widespread muscle pain and tenderness at certain pressure points, with no evidence of tissue damage. Brain scans of people with fibromyalgia show highly active pain centers, and the disorder is more closely associated with depression than most other medical conditions. This leads some experts to speculate that the pain sensitivity and emotional storminess of fibromyalgia result from faulty brain pathways.
Treating pain and depression in combination
In pain rehabilitation centers, specialists treat both problems together, often with the same techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis, and meditation. Physicians prescribe standard pain medications — acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and in severe cases, opiates — along with a variety of psychiatric drugs. Almost every drug used in psychiatry can serve as a pain medication (see Medications Used for Depression). By relieving anxiety, fatigue, or insomnia, these medications also ease any related pain. In addition, antidepressants — sometimes given in low doses — may relieve pain in ways unrelated to their antidepressant effects.
Exercise and psychotherapy are commonly used at pain centers, too. Physical therapists help patients perform exercises not only to break the vicious cycle of pain and immobility, but also to help relieve depression. Cognitive and behavioral therapies teach pain patients how to avoid fearful anticipation, banish discouraging thoughts, and adjust everyday routines to ward off physical and emotional suffering. Psychotherapy helps demoralized patients and their families tell their stories and describe the experience of pain in its relation to other problems in their lives.
Any personal health questions or problems mental or physical or before starting any diet or exercise program. Please consult your physician !
Wishing You Great Health!
Any questions? Ask Glen