We tend to think of depression as an invisible illness.
People are increasingly aware of the emotional and mental symptoms, but there are a whole host of unexpected physical symptoms that are associated with depression too, and often people don’t make the link.
Here are a few to be aware of.
Numb and tingling hands
This strange feeling can be caused by stress or shallow breathing, so is often associated with depression linked to anxiety. If you recognise it in yourself, try this online test to see if it’s depression-related.
Stress and depression can cause hormonal imbalances that can lead to hair loss. Some medications can also affect your hair too, so if you’ve noticed it thinning, speak to your doctor about your options.
Sweating is a common symptom of mental health issues, as it’s one of your body’s fight or flight responses. If you’ve noticed you’re sweating more than usual, in unexpected situations, speak to your GP.
Change to appetite
Depression affects everyone differently. Some may find their appetite entirely disappears, which can cause unwanted weight loss and increased fatigue and lethargy. Others may find their appetite increases, often combined with sugar cravings as their bodies cry out for a hit of energy. This in turn can cause unwanted weight gain, and sugar rushes and crashes.
Heart palpitations can be the symptom of a physical heart problem, and should never be taken lightly. But often they’re not a symptom of a heart condition, but are instead linked to mental health issues. Depression can cause an over-sensitive nervous system, flooded with high levels of various hormones, which can cause a racing heart, as well as missed beats and even chest pains.
If you are having any kind of heart problems, head to your doctor immediately.
Menstrual cycle changes
Depression can cause surges in hormones, especially if it’s combined with stress or anxiety, which can cause the stress hormone cortisol to spike. Prolonged hormone fluctuations can cause problems with your menstrual cycle, which may become heavier or conversely stop altogether. If you have noticed a change, visit your GP.
It’s increasingly well known that we have more serotonin (the happy chemical) receptors in our gut than we do in our brain, and many digestive problems have now been linked with emotional and mental illnesses. Depression can cause a full spectrum of these problems, from constipation to diarrhoea , stomach aches with no apparent cause and feeling nauseous.
This can be a vicious cycle as feeling unwell can make sufferers feel even worse mentally, so it’s vital you head to your doctor with any stomach discomfort.
Being unable to sleep
One well-known symptom of depression is over-sleeping and lack of energy. But some people find they’re unable to actually fall asleep. This is just as troublesome and can cause tiredness and difficulties getting up in the daytime because there is such a huge sleep debt. Good sleep hygiene can help some, but if the root cause is undiagnosed depression, it’s important to seek help. Everyone knows how much worse everything feels after a bad night’s sleep, so when this becomes chronic, it can cause despair.
Burning mouth syndrome
This is the strange and often painful sensation of heat on your lips, tongue or even entire mouth. It’s not fully understood, but has something to do with the brain translates messages sent from the nerves. Stress and depression are thought to be one of the causes but it’s often not connected as part of a diagnosis, so it’s important to mention.
Inability to concentrate
Even simple tasks such as watching TV can be difficult. Depression causes changes in your brain and if simple things like this are easy, you can imagine how big a task writing a presentation or even reading a book can be.
Getting lots of colds
Depression has been linked to a low immune system, and often sufferers are unable to do much exercise or eat as well as they might need to. Regularly suffering with bugs is a warning sign that your body’s defences are low and that something is really wrong. If you’ve had a string of colds, it’s definitely worth getting checked out, even if you don’t think there’s anything major wrong. You body might be trying to tell you something.
For more information on depression and other mental illnesses, visit NHS Choices. If you are concerned about your own health, visit your GP.