Depression: recognizing the physical symptoms

Headaches and digestive problems. In addition to overwhelming sadness, depression also presents physical symptoms.

Depression presents itself in an infinity of ways and has innumerable symptoms. The most well-known symptoms are called affective symptoms: sadness, lack of motivation, anxiety and a diminishing ability to feel pleasure. Aside from these symptoms are others that are equally common and important, but aren’t as well-known. These symptoms are called somatic or physical symptoms.

The frequency and severity of these somatic symptoms typically increase along with the gravity of the depression.

1. Vegatative Symptoms

- Asthenia. This is the most important and common symptom. Asthenia refers to general feelings of fatigue, tiredness and physical weakness. It most frequently affects people suffering from depression in the morning and gets better as the day wears on. Asthenia can affect intellectual functions such as memory, attention and concentration. The most frequent complaints highlight difficulty grasping and understanding new concepts.

- Cephalea. For those who are in a depressive state, headaches with atypical characteristics and no other explicable cause are frequent. In these cases, classic neurological treatments don’t work.

- General Pain. The presence of unspecific muscular and joint pain is common. This pain often doesn’t follow concrete patterns typically found in joint or rheumatic illnesses.

- Digestive Problems. These problems may present themselves in the form of a loss of appetite or even bulimia. Binge-eating is often present, causing weight gain or loss depending on the case.

- Effects on Sex Life. Changes in sex life are very common. Usually, depression causes a lack of a sex drive overall along with difficulties in having an erection for men and difficulty achieving orgasm in both sexes.

2. Biological Rhythm Symptoms

These symptoms are commonly found in people with depression, but they’re not present in all cases. Here, we refer to disturbances in circadian rhythm, the sleep-wake cycle and seasonal rhythms.

- Circadian Rhythm. It’s very normal for people who suffer from depression to say that they feel worse in the mornings. For the first few hours of the day they feel tired and experience a lack of vitality and motivation. In these cases, the affective symptoms tend to be more intense, with a greater presence of negativity and sadness. Behavior may show agitation or restlessness, or on the contrary, the person may seem immobilized and indifferent. These symptoms tend to improve as the day wears on. In the afternoon and evening some people may feel a sense of relief, regaining their energy and motivation and may then be able to leave the house.

There are other people who experience symptoms inversely, in other words, they feel better in the mornings with symptoms worsening throughout the day.

- Wake-sleep cycle. Sleep rhythms are often altered due to depression. In some cases, the person can sleep well, but wakes up a few times throughout the night and can’t get back to sleep after waking. In other cases, the person is able to sleep well, but wakes prematurely before it’s time to wake up at 5 or 6 am and is unable to go back to sleep. While awake, they are often overwhelmed with negative thoughts. Symptoms of anxiety often accompany these thoughts.

People living with depression tend to feel sleepy throughout the day. Some present daytime hypersomnia, or in other words, excessive daytime sleepiness or hours spent napping during the day.

- Seasonal rhythm. Many people note worsening or growing intensity of depressive symptoms in the spring or fall, especially during the periods of time when seasons are changing. However, there are also people who feel sharpening of symptoms when winter arrives and daylight hours decrease.

Depression, Diagnosis, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Psychological aspects, Health professionals

Author: Laura Mata, Doctor, Psychiatrist

Last Modification: March 13, 2017

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