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Pain and depression: What you should know

If you suffer from chronic pain, you’re probably desperate to stop the cycle. It’s possible depression could be contributing to pain that won’t quit. Multiple studies have shown that chronic pain and depression go hand in hand. Find out how to get the diagnosis and treatment you need to put the pain behind you and move on to being a happier, healthier you.

woman in pain

The link between pain and depression

Dozens of studies have linked chronic pain and depression. In 2003, the American Medical Association (AMA) published a review of previously conducted research to further evaluate the relationship between depression and pain.

The AMA study specifically sought to answer the question: “Does the presence of pain lead primary care providers to recognize and treat depression?”

Their conclusions of the study were as follows:

  • There is a positive correlation between the presence of pain and depression.
  • The presence of higher pain levels lead primary care providers to misdiagnosing and treating depression.
  • Moderate to severe pain is associated with increased depression and worse outcomes, such as lower quality of life and decreased ability to work.
  • Depression in patients with pain is associated with greater pain complaints and increased impairment.
  • Depression and pain share biological pathways and neurotransmitters. Treatment of both depression and pain at the same time is necessary for improved outcomes.

So how do you know if you’re depressed?

According to the study, if all primary care patients with a variety of pain conditions such as abdominal pain, headache, joint pain and back pain were evaluated for depression, 60 percent of undetected depression cases could have been found.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain and believe you may suffer from depression, talk to your primary care provider about your concerns and consider asking for a depression screening or a referral to a specialist who can help diagnose and treat your symptoms.

What type of treatment works best?

The AMA research found that treating the pain alone, and neglecting to treat the depression, led to failed outcomes — but in most cases, patients who were treated with anti-depressants experienced improvement in both pain and depression symptoms. This can be explained by the theory that depression and painful symptoms follow the same pathways of the central nervous system. Talk to your medical provider about the best treatment plan for you.

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