Depression changes the way our brain functions and affects our immune system. It can put us at risk of getting diseases like diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, heart problem among others.
Depression, one of the most common illnesses, affects about 15-20 percent of the population. Although depression is technically a mental disorder, it also affects physical health and well-being of a person.
Depression has a close relation with stress and the disease changes the way our brain functions and can increase risk of various physical health problems.
Depression leads to increase in stress hormones like cortisol or adrenaline and can affect the way our immune system works putting us at risk of getting diseases like heart problems, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
“Untreated stress can lead to various mental and physical health problems, most notably, depression and hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. Depression can also cause or worsen physical health problems. It is important to identify and treat depressive illness early to increase the chance of recovery and lessen physical health burden,” says Dr Santosh Bangar, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Global Hospital, Parel.
Dr Bangar talks about the different physical ailments that depression can trigger:
1. Heart diseases: Stress hormone adrenaline speeds up heart rate and makes blood vessels tighten, putting the body in a prolonged state of emergency. Over time, this can lead to heart disease. Research has shown if depression is untreated, there is increased risk of getting a heart attack and dying after a heart attack. Also, about 15% people with heart disease develop depression.
2. Auto-immune diseases: Depression and stress may have a negative impact on the immune system which may increase chance of infections and auto-immune diseases. Recent research has found that there seems to be a relationship between inflammation and depression, although the exact connection is unclear. Inflammation is linked to many illnesses. Some anti-inflammatory agents have shown to benefit some people with depression.
3. Cancer: Certain types of cancer, especially of the intestine are common in people with depression. The exact cause is unknown, but seems to be related through the inflammatory pathway and their toxins. Depressed patients due to their unhealthy lifestyle of smoking and excess alcohol consumption are at a high risk of other cancers such as stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, lungs and kidney.
4. Obesity and type 2 diabetes: While depression is often thought of as a mental illness, it also plays a role in appetite and nutrition. Some people cope by overeating, the so-called ‘comfort eating’. This can lead to weight gain and obesity-related illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes. Depression can cause change in the bowel movements and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
5. Memory loss: Depression can cause a lot of symptoms within the central nervous system, many of which are easy to dismiss or ignore. Older adults with depression have more difficulties with memory loss and reaction time during everyday activities compared to younger adults with depression. Depression is also an independent risk factor for stroke and Alzheimer’s dementia.