The Link Between Chronic Pain and Depression

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The Link Between Chronic Pain and Depression

For the 100 million U.S. adults suffering from chronic pain, emotional pain frequently follows. Some experts estimate that 50% of people with chronic pain also experience depression. The conditions are tightly entwined. While chronic pain dampens a person’s mood, depression can also lead to pain.

Pain frequently leads to depression

Living in pain that never subsides, that limits daily activities, and decreases quality of life naturally leads a person to feel down. Symptoms of depression may include ongoing fatigue, difficultly sleeping, trouble concentrating, feeling sad or anxious for an extended period of time, or losing interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable.

The daily stress of living with chronic pain can also increase the likelihood that a person will develop depression. Migraine headache sufferers are particularly vulnerable to mood disorders. A study from the University of Toronto found that people experiencing migraines were twice as likely to experience depression.

Painkillers sometimes result in depression

Researchers at St. Louis University Medical Center found that patients taking opioids—strong medications frequently prescribed to combat chronic pain—frequently became depressed.

Patients taking opioids for at least 180 days increased their risk of a depressive episode by 53%, researchers found. Patients taking opioids between 90 and 180 days saw a 25% increase in risk. Bigger doses of medication were also connected to a greater risk of depression.

Depression can lead to pain

Many people think of depression as solely an emotional state, but people feeling low also frequently experience physical symptoms, including headaches, joint or back pain, and stomach discomfort. This physical discomfort can exacerbate depression, resulting in an unhealthy cycle that’s difficult to break. People who are depressed are three times more likely to develop chronic pain, according to Harvard Health Publications.

The connection between pain and depression may be biological. Neurotransmitters commonly implicated in depression, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, are also involved in the brain’s signaling of pain. Similarly, both chronic pain and depression can lead to changes in the nervous system, essentially paving physiological roads perpetuating the conditions.

What are your experiences with chronic pain and depression? 

Image by julien haler via Flickr


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About the Author:

At Holistic Pain, we have a passion for helping you and those who around you who suffer from pain find relief. Part of that passion extends to education and transparency. In our Holistic Pain blog, we focus on new research studies, along with our own tips, for maintaining and improving your quality of life, even with pain.

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