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  • A new study finds having depression can take a physical toll.
  • People with depression have a 1.5 times greater risk of developing 29 health conditions, according to the study
  • The researchers believe that healthcare providers should focus on treating depression in an effort to prevent and treat somatic disease. 

Depression is a common risk factor in the development of other physical heath issues, like diabeteshigh blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, that frequently lead to hospitalization, new research suggests.

The new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry Wednesday, evaluated the health data of over 130,000 people in the United Kingdom to determine if and how depression was associated with co-morbid illnesses that commonly require hospitalization. 

People with depression have a 1.5 times greater risk of developing 29 health conditions, like poisoning and falls but also diabetes, back pain, and bronchitis, according to the findings.

The most common causes of hospitalization in people with depression were endocrine, musculoskeletal, and vascular diseases — not psychiatric disorders. 

The results suggest that depression may be an effective target for the prevention of physical and mental health issues that can lead to hospitalization, the researchers say. 

Why depression may be a risk factor for other illnesses 

“What this data clearly show is that depression has a dramatic effect on the whole body and that effect can cause significant physical health issues,” Anamara Ritt-Olson, PhD, an associate professor in residence of health, society, and behavior at the University of California, Irvine’s Program in Public Health, told Healthline.

One of the key takeaways is that depression appears to be a common risk factor in the development of many other physical health illnesses.

The reason why is less clear, however, it’s likely due to a mix of factors, including genetics, systemic inflammation, and dysfunctional neurotransmitters, says Ritt-Olson. 

Inflammation, for example, has been found to contribute to a wide range of health conditions, including depression, obesity, and diabetes. 

“There have been a lot of studies that consider all these pathways in depth, but we have yet to find the one,” says Ritt-Olson. 

Depression may also worsen pre-existing health issues.

Depression was associated with worse disease prognosis in people with diabetes and heart disease, the study found. 

For example, the condition can make it harder to follow your doctor’s advice, take medications, and get regular exercise, Ritt-Olson says.

People with depression may “have difficulty following healthy habits and building and maintaining supportive relationships that are so key in taking care of chronic conditions,” said Dr. Manish Sapra, the executive director of the behavioral health service line at Northwell Health.

The study finds that depression may lead to more health conditions, but also having these conditions may increase your risk of developing depression. For example, being diagnosed with cancer, a heart attack, or a neurological disease like epilepsy can contribute to depression. 

“Having that disease can then make your depression worse, so you are stuck in a cycle where your mood and your physical health are pulling down your entire quality of life,” says Ritt-Olson.

In addition, people with depression often have difficulty accessing care, according to Sapra.

Treating depression may help improve overall health 

The researchers believe that healthcare providers should focus on treating depression in an effort to prevent and treat somatic disease. 

Primary care doctors — who are often the point-of-contact for people with depression — should routinely screen patients for depression at well visits. 

Early diagnosis and prompt treatment of depression may help prevent the development and exacerbation of other physical health problems. 

“This is a wonderful study that should serve as a significant call to action to screen for depression much more frequently as it is a strong red flag for a long, long, long list of possible problems,” says Ritt-Olson. 

Though there is much more to uncover regarding the root causes of physical and mental health conditions, it’s clear that both are closely intertwined and should be treated comprehensively.

Sapra says this can be achieved by fusing care provided by primary care physicians, medical specialists, and mental health providers. 

“Treating comorbid depression and anxiety and even substance use in a collaborative relationship with mental health providers helps with not only improving mental health symptoms but also physical health,” says Sapra.

The bottom line:

Depression is a common risk factor in the development of many physical heath diseases that often require hospitalization, new research shows. Because mental and physical health are so intertwined, the researchers believe that treating depression, first and foremost, can help prevent the development and progression of other physical health issues.

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