Woman holding neck in pain

4 Physical Illnesses to Watch for If You Have Depression

This entry was posted in Mental Health on April 25, 2017 and modified on April 30, 2019

Although depression is a mental health issue, it also manifests in numerous physical symptoms. Body aches, fatigue and headaches are the most common physical complaints associated with depression.

But it’s possible that these symptoms are signs of not only depression, but also other chronic physical illnesses. Depression may mask the severity of these conditions. In other words, depression may always be blamed for your constant fatigue, even though you suspect that something else is going on. That’s why it’s important to determine your other health risks and receive treatment.

If you have depression, here are four physical illnesses to watch for and to discuss with your doctor.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Depression can make you lose all energy and motivation, making it difficult to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. With severe depression, you might call in sick to work because you feel like you need to sleep for days. You may normally sleep for eight hours a night, but when depression hits, you sleep for upward of 10 hours. You might not even wake up feeling refreshed despite spending such a long time asleep.

During the day, you may have trouble focusing or drumming up the energy to do anything —   even simple things like make lunch or take a shower. All of this is normal for someone suffering from depression. However, if notice that you need to sleep longer and longer to feel refreshed, and you often feel like you desperately need sleep-like-a-log naps during the day, you should talk to your doctor about chronic fatigue syndrome. Your depression treatment might make you feel better but not 100% up to par if this physical illness is also affecting your body.


Depression can cause body aches and pains that are very similar to the muscle and joint pain experienced by fibromyalgia sufferers. With both conditions, the pain may come and go, which makes it harder to pinpoint whether it is simply a symptom of depression or whether there is a more systemic, chronic pain problem.

There is one major difference to look for: depression tends to cause vague feelings of pain that may be difficult to trace to a point of origin, whereas fibromyalgia sufferers are able to identify exactly which areas are tender and causing pain. These areas tend to be located around the knees, hips, elbows or clavicle. If you experience muscle tenderness or pain even when your other depression symptoms seem to be under control, it would be wise to talk to your doctor about investigating the possibility of fibromyalgia or another chronic pain condition.

Heart Disease

Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. If you have depression, you may have also experienced moments of restlessness, worry or panic. Such feelings are sure to get your heart pumping, but is it possible that depression is associated with heart disease?

Studies have suggested that people with a history of depression are more likely to suffer from heart disease or a heart attack than people who have never experienced depression. While the exact reason for the correlation is still under investigation, one idea is that people with depression have higher resting heart rates, which may predispose them to cardiac arrhythmia.

It’s true that people with depression may not have the energy to exercise regularly, which may further compound the problem. If you have a family history of heart disease or any other risk factors, know that depression won’t do you any favors when it comes to heart disease either. At your next doctor appointment, ask about heart disease screenings that are appropriate for people in your age group.


There are many well-known risk factors for diabetes, including being overweight and consuming an unhealthy diet high in fats and sugars. But a recent study has revealed that depression may be a risk factor as well, especially when found in combination with metabolic processing issues.

If you have a family history of diabetes or have been warned by your doctor that you may be “pre-diabetic” (displaying multiple risk factors for diabetes), know that depression may propel you closer to a diabetes diagnosis. However, diabetes is not inevitable, and with proactive treatment you can avoid it. Ask your doctor about your specific risk factors, and be sure to bring up depression.

It Works the Other Way Too: Illnesses Can Cause Depression

Of course, many chronic physical illnesses can precede depression. For example, being diagnosed with a life-altering condition like heart disease or diabetes certainly has the potential to trigger an acute bout of depression. As you transition into a new lifestyle, including a new way of eating or exercising, your feelings of depression should dissipate. If they don’t, you may have chronic depression, which could warrant formal treatment.

Be aware not only of the impact physical illnesses can have on your own health, but also on the health of loved ones, and provide good supportive care to keep depression at bay. Exercise, diet, yoga, acupuncture, and plenty of sunshine are all lifestyle factors that can ease mild symptoms of depression or help prevent the onset or worsening of acute depression. However, chronic depression can still take hold despite your best efforts, and there’s no shame in seeking help from a doctor for this or any other mental health condition.

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