Depression Articles

Medical Conditions and Depression

Depression Shares Symptoms with Other Medical Conditions

Some symptoms of depression also occur in medical conditions. For example, weight loss, sleep disturbance, and low energy also occur in diabetes and heart disease. Apathy, poor concentration, and memory loss are also found in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Achilles or fatigue may be present in many other conditions. In addition, fatigue, high or low mood, sedation, and difficulty with memory or concentration can be depressive symptoms but can also occur as side effects of medication. The current medications taken by an individual should also be evaluated in determining the diagnosis. To determine the proper diagnosis, your physician must conduct a thorough physical evaluation, to rule out a serious medical condition or medication problem. But, many physicians only focus on possible physical illness, and may not consider that depressed older people are more likely to complain of physical problems, rather than expressing sad, anxious, or hopeless feelings as possible depression. You should consider consulting a psychologist, as well as your physician, if you experience many symptoms of depression.

Depression and Medical Illnesses

Depression often co-occurs with medical, psychiatric, and substance abuse disorders, though it is frequently unrecognized and untreated. This can lead to unnecessary suffering since depression is usually treatable, even when it co-occurs with other disorders. As a matter of fact, psychological treatment is often indicated when an individual experiences depression because of a chronic illness, chronic pain, or increasing disability. Not only is it important to treat the psychological components of these medical problems separately, but research shows that psychological treatment frequently improves the treatment success rate for a variety of medical conditions.

Medical Illnesses

Depression occurs at higher than average rates in heart attack and cancer patients, persons with diabetes, and post-stroke patients. Untreated depression can interfere with the patient's ability to follow the necessary treatment regimen or to participate in a rehabilitation program. It may also increase impairment from the medical disorder and impede its improvement. For example, cancer patients who receive psychotherapy, in addition to their traditional medical treatment, have shown improvement in their medical condition that may be attributed to reduced depression, an improved attitude or outlook on life, and increased motivation to survive and recover. Research is continuing in this area. 

Other Psychological Problems

Depression also occurs more frequently in persons with other psychological disorders, especially anxiety disorders. In such cases, detection of depression can result in more effective treatment and a better outcome for the person. A psychologist can design a treatment program that will address multiple psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression. It makes no sense to treat one problem, and allow others to continue without treatment. 

Substance Abuse Disorders

Substance abuse disorders (including alcohol and prescription drugs) frequently coexist with depression. Substance use must be discontinued in order to clarify the diagnosis and maximize the effectiveness of psychological treatment. Sometimes, people begin to abuse alcohol or drugs to self-treat their depression. In such cases, both problems must be addressed. 

Individuals or family members with concerns about the co-occurrence of depression and other medical illnesses or other psychological problems should discuss these issues with their physician, and should consult with a psychologist for a complete psychological evaluation.