Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and other countries across the world, affecting more than 16 million adults in the US alone, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

This mood disorder causes a number of emotional symptoms, including persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things once enjoyed. Depression can also cause physical symptoms.

Depression can make you feel sick and cause symptoms like exhaustion, headaches, and aches and pains. Depression is more than just a case of the blues and requires treatment.

How can depression make you physically sick?

There are a number of ways that depression can make you physically sick. Here are some of the different physical symptoms and why they happen.

Diarrhea, upset stomach, and ulcers

Your brain and gastrointestinal (GI) system are directly linked. Depression, anxiety, and stress have been shown to affect the movement and contractions of the GI tract, which can cause diarrhea, constipation, and nausea.

Your emotions also appear to impact stomach acid production, which can increase the risk of ulcers. There’s some evidence that stress may cause or worsen acid reflux.

There also appears to be a link between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and anxiety. Depression has also been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Disruption of sleep

Sleep issues are common symptoms of depression. This can include trouble falling or staying asleep, and getting sleep that isn’t productive or restful.

There’s substantial evidence linking depression and sleep issues. Depression can cause or worsen insomnia, and insomnia may increase the risk of depression.

The effects of sleep deprivation also worsen other symptoms of depression, such as stress and anxiety, headaches, and a weakened immune system.

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Impaired immunity

Depression impacts your immune system in several ways.

When you sleep, your immune system produces cytokines and other substances that help your body fight infection. Sleep deprivation, which is a common symptom of depression, interferes with this process, increasing your risk of infection and illness.

There’s also evidence that depression and stress are linked to inflammation. Chronic inflammation plays a role in the development of a number of diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Increased heart rate and blood pressure

Depression and stress are closely linked and both have been shown to impact the heart and blood pressure. Unmanaged stress and depression can cause:

  • irregular heart rhythms
  • high blood pressure
  • damage to the arteries

A 2013 study found depression to be common in people with uncontrolled high blood pressure. It also mentioned that depression may interfere with blood pressure management.

Weight loss or weight gain

Your mood may impact your diet. For some, depression causes a loss of appetite that could lead to unnecessary weight loss.

For others with depression, feelings of hopelessness may result in poor eating choices and a loss of interest in exercise. Reaching for foods high in sugars, fats, and starchy carbohydrates is also common. Increased appetite and weight gain are also side effects of some medications for depression.

Obesity also seems to be common in people with depression, according to an older survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey, conducted between 2005 and 2010, found that approximately 43 percent of adults with depression are obese.


According to the National Headache Foundation, 30 to 60 percent of people with depression experience headaches.

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Depression and related symptoms like stress and anxiety have been shown to cause tension headaches. Depression also appears to increase the risk of recurrent headaches of stronger intensity and longer duration. Poor sleep may also contribute to more frequent or stronger headaches.

Muscle and joint pain

There’s a confirmed link that depression can cause pain and pain can cause depression. Back pain and other joint and muscle pain are common physical symptoms of depression.

Depression and other mood disorders have been shown to alter pain perception, which can trigger or worsen pain. Fatigue and loss of interest common in depression can lead to being less active. This inactivity can cause muscle and joint pain and stiffness.

Treating the physical symptoms of depression

Finding relief from physical symptoms of depression may require more than one type of treatment. While some antidepressants may also alleviate some of your physical symptoms, such as pain, other symptoms may need to be treated separately.

Treatment may include:


Antidepressants are medications for depression. Antidepressants are believed to work by correcting neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain that are responsible for your mood.

They may help physical symptoms caused by shared chemical signals in the brain. Some antidepressants may also help relieve pain and headaches, insomnia, and poor appetite.

Behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and other types of behavioral therapy have been shown to help in the treatment of mood disorders and pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective treatment for chronic insomnia.

Stress reduction

Techniques to reduce stress and help with the physical and emotional symptoms of depression include:

  • exercise
  • massage
  • yoga
  • meditation
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Other medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as anti-inflammatories or acetaminophen, may help relieve headaches and muscle and joint pain. Muscle relaxers may help with low back pain and tense neck and shoulder muscles.

Anxiety medication may be prescribed in the short term. Along with helping with anxiety, these types of drugs can also reduce muscle tension and help you sleep.

Natural remedies

You may also be able to find relief of your symptoms using natural remedies, such as natural sleep aids and natural pain relievers.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to have numerous benefits that may help with depression and related symptoms and conditions.

When to see a doctor

To receive a diagnosis of depression, your symptoms must be present for two weeks. See a doctor about any physical symptoms that don’t improve within two weeks. Make an appointment with a doctor or a mental health professional right away if you start to notice signs of depression.

Suicide prevention

If you feel you or someone else may be at immediate risk of self-harm or you’re having thoughts of suicide, call 767, 112 or 911 for emergency medical care in U.S.

You can also reach out to a loved one, someone in your faith community.


The physical symptoms of depression are real and can negatively impact your daily life and your recovery.

Everyone experiences depression differently and while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment, a combination of treatments can help. Speak to a doctor about your options.