Tell Me Where it Hurts
Depression and Pain
Q: My mother, who's 83, suffers from severe depression and she never responded well to medication or psychotherapy. Since I was a kid, I've seen her hurting all over, all the time. Is that normal in depression?
A: Our brain depends on the presence of a multitude of chemicals that allows the nerve cells to "talk" to each other. Due to the combination of genetic predisposition and life's stressful events, this chemical balance may be lost, resulting in depression, anxiety, panic attacks and many other forms of impairment of brain function.
In depression, we lose the ability to have fun, our concentration diminishes and our irritability increases. Even as we shut down to the outside world, we gain increased sensitivity to the discomforts of the body. Normal aches and pains may become intolerable. A simple extra heartbeat or excess abdominal gas can become a major source of distress. In fact, most patients with depression arrive at the doctor's office complaining of other nonspecific medical problems that often have to be ruled out before the diagnosis of depression can be made.
On the other hand, just because a person suffers from depression doesn't mean that he or she is immune to other diseases. For example, older folks can develop a condition named polymyalgia rheumatica, which may cause severe generalized pain and fatigue, often misdiagnosed as depression because, with a couple of exceptions, blood tests are nondiagnostic.
© Dr. Moacir Schnapp and Dr. Kit Mays