Chronic Pain and Depression- Inseparable but Treatable

Chronic pain and depression

Chronic pain and depression  always come hand in hand. If you have been managing any sort of pain for a quite a while, you can tell from experience that living with chronic pain can be hell. Being helpless and not able to control the situation can be very depressing. Not knowing when all of your symptoms will go away can make you feel hopeless and this might magnify the pain and make it even a bit harder to cope. The bright side though, is that effective treatments can relieve depression and can help make chronic pain more tolerable.

Depressed fighting chronic pain?

If you are battling with chronic pain and depression, you’re not alone. That’s because chronic pain and depression are common problems that often overlap. Depression in itself is one of the most common mental health problems facing people who suffer from chronic pain, and it often complicates the patient’s condition and treatment. Consider these statistics:

  • According to the American Pain Foundation, about 32 million people in the U.S. report pain lasting longer than one year.
  • More than half of the patients who complain of pain to their doctors are depressed.
  • On average, 65% of people who are depressed also complain of pain.
  • People whose pain limits their independence are especially likely to get depressed.

Are you afraid of treating your depression? You are not alone. See why some people hesitate to check in for depression treatments

Because depression in patients with chronic pain frequently goes undiagnosed, it often goes untreated. Symptoms of pain and complaints becomes a regular disturbing recurrence on most doctors’ visits. The result is depression, along with sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, lack of energy, and decreased physical activity. All of these may make pain much worse.

Symptoms of chronic pain and depression

Nobody loves pain. This is because we are not designed to harbour pain – not for a minute, not to talk about chronic pain. Pain provokes an emotional response in us. Anxiety, irritability, and agitation – all these are normal feelings similar to that which happens when we’re hurting. Normally, as pain subsides, so does the stressful response.

But what if the pain doesn’t go away? Over time, these emotions become accentuated…they develop into something else. When pain does not go away, the constantly activated stress response can cause multiple problems associated with depression. Those problems can include:

  • constant anxiety
  • confused thinking
  • chronic fatigue
  • irritability
  • loss of sleep

Chronic pain and Grief can cause depression.Read more about how to heal fast from grief and depression

Why depression adds to chronic pain – A scientific explanation

“Chronic pain and depression go hand in hand -It is usually assumed that a person with chronic pain is depressed” This is generally true in almost all cases and almost inevitable as pain drags on, but why?

The real connection between these two conditions can be explained by anatomy. Depression and chronic pain share some of the same neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers travelling between nerves. They also share some of the same nerve pathways. This means what you feel when you are depressed and when you feel pain would be similar.

In people who are at risk of having clinical (major) depression, losses (such as a job, or sense of respect as a functional person, or of sexual relations) can contribute to the development of depression.

Once depression sets in, it magnifies the pain that is already there. When depression adds to the symptoms of chronic pain, it becomes even more unpleasant as it reduces the ability to cope,”

If you make a comparison of people with chronic pain and depression to those who only suffer chronic pain. Those with chronic pain and depression:

  • report more intense pain
  • feel less control of their lives
  • use more unhealthy coping strategies

Because chronic pain and depression are so intertwined, they are often treated together. In fact, some treatments can improve both conditions. Some treatments for pain, such as opioids, can sometimes cause or worsen depression if used habitually.

Treating Chronic Pain and Depression

Chronic pain affects a person’s entire life and so is the accompanying depression. Consequently, an ideal treatment approach addresses all the areas of one’s life affected by chronic pain and depression. Because of the connection between both,you should not be surprised to find a measure of similarity in their treatments. This includes the use of antidepressants and other treatment protocols.

Use of antidepressants

As explained earlier, the human body is wired with similar neurotransmitters and nerve pathways for both chronic pain and depression. This is why antidepressants can be used to improve both conditions.

Nobody wants to be told, ‘it’s all in your head.’ Sounds mental right? But the reality is that the experience of pain is in the head. All interpretations of pain are in the brain and that is the mechanism of antidepressant use. Antidepressants work on the brain to reduce the perception of pain.”

Tricyclic antidepressants have abundant evidence of effectiveness for certain kinds of neurologically-based pain (such as pinched nerves or migraine headaches). However, because of side effects, their use is often limited. Some newer antidepressants are prescribed by doctors to treat certain painful chronic syndromes and seem to work well, with fewer side effects.

The importance of exercise

Many people with chronic pain avoid exercise. They can’t tell the difference between pain from getting hurt with physical activity and chronic pain, so they try to avoid anything that might hurt. People with chronic pain end up sitting around. The best thing is for people to get busy, engage in a physical activity and take control.

Everyone with chronic pain can and should do some kind of exercise. Consult with a physician to design an exercise plan that’s safe and effective for you.

Treating chronic pain- Cognitive therapy

Is it possible to carry out mind control to eliminate pain? Or rather, can you think your way out of feeling pain? It may be hard to believe, but research clearly shows that for ordinary people, certain kinds of mental training truly improve chronic pain.

One approach is cognitive therapy. In cognitive therapy, a person learns to notice the negative “automatic thoughts” that surround the experience of chronic pain. These thoughts are often distortions of reality. Cognitive therapy can teach a person how to change these thought patterns and improve the experience of pain.

Need treatment for chronic pain and depression? Here’s how to get started

The best way to approach managing chronic pain is to team up with a physician to create a treatment plan. When chronic pain and depression are combined, the need to work with a physician is even greater. Here’s how to get started:

  • See your primary care physician and tell her you’re interested in gaining control over your chronic pain. As you develop a plan, keep in mind that the ideal pain management plan will be multidisciplinary. That means it will address all the areas of your life affected by pain. If your physician is not trained in pain management herself, ask her to refer you to a pain specialist.
  • Empower yourself by tapping into available resources. Several reputable national organizations are devoted to helping people live full lives despite pain. See the list below for their web sites.
  • Consider integrative therapies; work with your doctor to choose which are best for you.
  • Find a cognitive therapist near you with experience in the treatment of chronic pain. You can locate one by contacting the national pain organizations or cognitive therapists’ professional groups listed below.

Always Remember

Are you suffering from chronic pain? Added to this over time, you are already having symptoms of depression? If this is you, do not suffer in silence. Your condition can be managed and in time, you will not only be able to do things which you thought you could not manage, your outlook to life will also improve totally. Even if the cause of your pain cannot be removed, you will always be the better you.

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