Fibromyalgia can be a very painful and frustrating illness to have. Fibromyalgia symptoms like chronic headaches, sleep disorders, and muscle aches and pains can make living with the illness difficult and tiresome. Lack of understanding from the medical community can also make many fibromyalgia sufferers feel isolated and alone. As a result, many people with fibromyalgia syndrome experience chronic depression alongside their illness.
Depression can leave you feeling alone, anxious, and extremely sad, and can make fibromyalgia even more troublesome to deal with. It is important to recognize the symptoms of depression so that you can seek appropriate treatment from your health care provider. You are not alone – help for depression is out there and can include support groups, prescription medications and botanical supplements.
What is Depression?
Everyone has felt depressed at some time or another. Leaving a job, ending a relationship, or losing a loved one can all take their toll on your emotions. It is normal and healthy to have periodic feelings of sadness. But depression isn’t just about feeling a little blue – it is a chronic, debilitating sadness that can affect all areas of your life. Major depression, the name for the clinical form of depression, can be diagnosed if you feel very depressed for more than two weeks. Most major depressions last between 6 and 12 months.
Depression is the most common psychological disorder in North America, and affects about 20% of the population at some point in their lives. Depression tends to hit twice as many women as men, and typically onsets between ages 25 and 45. Fibromyalgia patients are at particular risk of developing depression. In fact, it is thought that at least 30% of fibromyalgia sufferers also have clinical depression and 50% of those battling fibromyalgia will experience severe depression at some time in their lives.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Depression tends to manifest itself in all areas of life, including your physical body, your emotions, and your behaviors. Signs of clinical depression tend to be numerous and will persist for weeks. It is important to consult with your health care provider if you do recognize any of these depression symptoms.
Depression’s worst symptoms tend to be emotional. If you are clinically depressed you will experience:
- chronic sadness
- feelings of worthlessness
- feeling “empty” inside
- lack of enjoyment in activities that once were pleasurable
- loss of sex drive or interest in sex
- excessive guilt
Depression often causes numerous symptoms that affect how you behave. You may experience:
- trouble concentrating
- reluctance to make decisions
- refusal to participate in social activities
- being overly active or inactive
- periods of self harm
Physical symptoms of depression will manifest themselves in your body or appearance. They include:
- nausea and indigestion
- lack of appetite leading to weight loss
- overeating leading to weight gain
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia or hypersomnia)
Causes of Depression in Fibromyalgia
Most depression is thought to be caused by low levels of certain chemicals in the brain, particularly serotonin. However, depression is so common in patients with fibromyalgia that many people have suggested other causes for depression. To date, no one is really sure what causes depression in patients with fibromyalgia, but there are a number of theories.
Low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically serotonin, cause most depressive episodes. These neurotransmitters send signals to different parts of the brain, manipulating mood, pain sensations, and other functions. Extremely low levels of these neurotransmitters may cause you to feel depressed. Fibromyalgia disability is often associated with low levels of neurotransmitters (caused by sleep deprivation and other factors) and depression may be a side effect of these low levels.
Chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia may be a cause of depression. Dealing with frequent and debilitating pain can leave anyone feeling down in the dumps, and this may be a factor in fibromyalgia depression. However, this cause is debated because not everyone with fibromyalgia pain suffers from depression, and often those with the worst pain have a very healthy mental state.
Depression in fibromyalgia may be caused by specific genetic factors. It has been found that a large number of people with both depression and fibromyalgia also have a family history of depression. Therefore, many experts suspect a familial predisposition to developing depression in these individuals.
Effects of Major Depression on Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia research shows that depression can have a profound impact on the course of your fibromyalgia. Depression can lead to inactivity and social isolation, resulting in increased risk for chronic pain and disability. Though studies show that depression does not increase the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms, depression is more likely to cause behavioral changes that could affect the course of the illness.
According to recent studies, non-depressed patients with fibromyalgia tend to be more active. Activity helps to provide relief from fibromyalgia symptoms, reducing pain and fatigue. Activity can also safeguard against future depressive episodes. However, those fibromyalgia sufferers with clinical depression tend to be more inactive, and this can cause increased pain and suffering.
Depression tends to inhibit people from taking care of their bodies, which is of ultimate importance when dealing with fibromyalgia. People with both depression and fibromyalgia are more likely to live alone, refuse physical therapy, and attempt suicide.
It is important to describe your signs of depression as accurately as possible to your health care provider so he can try to find a cause for your depression. Additionally, medications can be prescribed to help ease your depression symptoms. Antidepressants commonly used to treat depression have also been shown to be helpful in easing some fibromyalgia symptoms.