The effects of depression on the body and physical health

In this article, learn about these physical effects of depression, including chronic pain, weight changes, and increased inflammation.

What is depression?

Depression is a complex mental health condition that causes a person to have low mood and may leave them feeling persistently sad or hopeless.

Depressive symptoms can be a temporary experience in response to grief or trauma. But when the symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, it can be a sign of a serious depressive disorder.

The same symptoms can also be a sign of another mental health condition, such as bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists the following symptoms of depression:

  • depressed mood on most days, including feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • too little or too much sleep most days
  • unintended weight loss or gain or changes in appetite
  • physical agitation or feelings of sluggishness
  • low energy or fatigue
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • intrusive thoughts of death or suicide

The symptoms vary between individuals and may change over time. For a doctor to diagnose depression, a person must have five or more symptoms that must be present during the same 2-week period.

Physical symptoms of depression

Research has documented many ways that depression can affect physical health, including the following:

Research indicates that chronic stress and depression are linked to inflammation and may change the immune system. Other research suggests that depression could be due to chronic inflammation.

People with depression are more likely to have inflammatory conditions or autoimmune disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), type 2 diabetes, and arthritis.

However, it is unclear whether depression causes inflammation or chronic inflammation makes someone more vulnerable to depression. More research is necessary to understand the link between the two.

People with depression may experience insomnia or trouble sleeping.

This condition can leave them feeling exhausted, making it difficult to manage both physical and mental health.

Doctors link sleep deprivation to a host of health problems. Similarly, research has correlated long-term sleep deprivation with high blood pressure, diabetes, weight-related issues, and some types of cancer.

Gastrointestinal problems

People with depression often report stomach or digestion problems, such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, or constipation. Some people with depression also have chronic conditions, including IBS.

According to research published in 2016, this may be because depression changes the brain’s response to stress by suppressing activity in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.


Recognizing that depression can cause physical health problems can help a person to seek treatment and make changes to help manage their symptoms.

Depression is treatable. A doctor may recommend a combined approach, using medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. With the right support, a person can manage both physical and mental health effects of depression.

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