10 Diseases that Make Depression Feel Worse


15_patient_doctor_with_smiling_patientConsider these statistics:

  • Nearly 50 percent of asthma patients suffer from symptoms of depression.
  • At least 40 percent of persons with Parkinson’s disease experience depression, and anxiety is often reported.
  • Forty to 65 percent of patients who have had a heart attack suffer from depression.
  • The lifetime risk for depression in patients with multiple sclerosis is 40 to 60 percent.
  • Nearly 30 percent of stroke patients develop depression.

A 2009 study published in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics confirms that “when pain is severe, impairs function, and/or is refractory to treatment, it is associated with more depressive symptoms and worse depression outcomes. Similarly, depression in patients with pain is associated with more complaints and greater functional impairment.” The study goes on to explain that there is growing evidence that “depression and pain share genetic factors, biological pathways and neurotransmitters. Thus, the most promising area of future research is elucidating the neurobiological alterations in pain pathways that intersect with those involved in depression.”

This is important to know since, according to research published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the number of people with chronic illnesses will increase 37 percent between 2000 and 2030, an increase of 46 million people. That means those of us who are predisposed to depressive episodes to begin with would be wise to familiarize ourselves with those illnesses that are most often associated with depression and can exacerbate our symptoms. The following ten are a good start.

1. Parkinson’s Disease

The National Parkinson Foundation’s Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest clinical study of Parkinson’s disease ever conducted, shows that depression is the most important factor influencing the health status of Parkinson’s patients. Says the study: “A clear finding from our study is that, taken together, mood, depression, and anxiety, have the greatest effect on quality of life, even more than the motor impairments commonly associated with the disease. Further, our analysis found that QII participants who receive care from clinics with the most active approach to psychological counseling report the lowest rates of depression.”

2. Heart Disease

Depression is three times more common in people after a heart attack than in the general public, with 15 to 20 percent of heart attack victims qualifying for a diagnosis of major depression disorder and many others experiencing depression symptoms. “Depression after a heart attack is bad not only because of the accompanying emotional distress and suffering,” says Redford B. Williams, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, “it also increases one’s risk of having another heart attack or dying over the ensuing months and years.” Patients with heart disease who are depressed tend to have more cardiac symptoms than those who are not depressed. Depression and anxiety affect heart rhythms, increase blood pressure, elevate insulin and cholesterol levels, and raise levels of stress hormones.

3. Stroke

Nearly 30 percent of stroke patients develop depression, either in the early or in the late stages after a stroke, according to a study published in the medical journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. It is so common that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) V categorizes “post-stroke depression” as a mood disorder (due to a general medical condition, i.e. stroke). Stroke causes physical damage to the brain, affecting brain cells that monitor mood and mental function. It’s also a frightening experience that can cause trauma. Although depression may affect functional recovery and quality of life after stroke, it is often ignored. In fact, only a minority of patients is diagnosed and even fewer are treated in the common clinical practice.

4. Dementia

Up to 40 percent of people with Alzheimer’s Disease may suffer from severe depression according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In fact, a new study published in the journal Neurology found that for people who develop Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other “noncognitive” changes can happen before any of the hallmark symptoms like memory and thinking problems associated with the disease. Another report in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that depressed older adults (over the age of 50) were more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia and 65 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than people who weren’t depressed. It can be difficult to distinguish depression in persons with dementia because the symptoms are similar: a lack of interest in hobbies and activities, difficulty communicating, weight loss, difficulty sleeping.

5. Hypertension

High blood pressure can impact depression; however, it is more likely that depression affects high blood pressure. Stress hormone levels are raised during depressive episodes, which, in turn, elevates blood pressure. Acute stress and severe depression will elevate blood pressure to the point where damage to blood vessels is caused.

6. Diabetes

I was shocked to find out how many people in my depression communities, Project Beyond Blue and Group Beyond Blue, are diabetic. In a 2010 study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, it was determined that the diabetes-depression relation is, in fact, “bidirectional,” meaning that just as people with diabetes have a higher risk for developing depression than those without the condition, people who suffer from depression are more likely to develop diabetes, at least type 2 diabetes. “We can say that the two conditions are linked to each other and are both the causes and the consequences of each other,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

7. Cancer

The prevalence of mood disorders among persons with cancer can vary depending on the type of cancer and its clinical stage. In an older 1983 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 47 percent of the patients were diagnosed with a kind of psychiatric disorder—most of them adjustment disorders. However, a more recent study published in the journal Cancer shows that 53.7 of terminally ill cancer patients were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder: delirium, dementia, adjustment disorders, major depression, and generalized anxiety disorder.

8. Multiple Sclerosis

Depression is the most frequent psychiatric diagnosis in patients with MS according to a study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development. The lifetime risk for depression in patients with MS ranges from 40 to 60 percent. Depression could be a result of the disease process, since multiple sclerosis damages the myelin and nerve fibers deep within the brain, areas involved in emotional expression and control. Depression may also be associated with changes that occur in the immune and neuroendocrine systems. According to the study, “the etiology of depression is multifactorial and likely associated with psychosocial stress, focal demyelinating lesions, and immune dysfunction.”

9. Asthma

I was surprised to learn that nearly 50 percent of asthma patients may suffer from clinically significant depressive symptoms. The stress involved in having this particular illness and the disruptive symptoms seem to be what contribute most to psychiatric diagnoses. For example, those who experience dyspnea and nighttime awakening are at increased risk for major depression according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia. Asthma has also been associated with anxiety in a study with samples of children and adolescents. In general, the depression and anxiety is worse among persons whose asthma is difficult to control: 87.5 percent of person with frequent asthma attacks experienced mood disruptions, compared to 25 percent of persons with less frequent attacks.

10. Arthritis

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research indicates that one third of American adults with arthritis 45 years and older have either anxiety or depression. Interestingly enough, anxiety was almost twice as common as depression. Most people who had depression (85 percent) also had anxiety. But only half (50 percent) of the people who had anxiety also had depression. The study suggests that everyone with arthritis may be at risk for mood disruptions, and that screening all adults with arthritis for anxiety and depression is more important than ever, especially since the results found that only 50 percent of those with anxiety and depression sought help in the past year.

Join the conversation on Project Beyond Blue, the new depression community.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.


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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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8 Responses
  1. Holli Nunn

    ive followed you since my mom past away in 2002. She was bipolar. Everything seems to run in my family and your blog has been so encouraging. What is your take on MTHFR genetic mutation being the root cause for most of what you’ve just listed. I too have gone back and forth between pharmaceuticals and holistic approaches and now that I’ve been diagnosed I don’t know which way to go.

    1. Therese Borchard

      Hi Holli, Thanks for your comment. I do think there is something to the MTHFR genetic mutation. It’s fairly easy to get tested. Mine was negative. As far as which way to go … it’s such a journey. I can’t tell you what to do because each person is so unique. But I wish I had explored diet, thyroid, gut, etc. back when I was diagnosed because I think many people will be “fixed” with some tweaks in those areas. Drugs can be life-saving, but they don’t always work, so I think it’s important to have some other techniques that you can pull out as well. Rooting for you!! t

      1. HollibNunn

        Thank you for responding! I came across this website that I found to be very intriguing and wanted to share it with you. I read an article a few years back that you wrote on trying to find the balance between pharmaceuticals and natural solutions. Not sure if you have heard of Peter Smith in London but his research is very in depth and helpful. I’ve requested a Skype consult. I’ve been chasing this rabbit down a hole for so long trying to find the balance that I’m hoping this will at least give me a break for awhile. http://www.balancingbrainchemistry.co.uk/29/Depression-Treatment-Naurally-Without-Drugs.html

  2. John Mozer

    Hello Therese. I have an incurable, chronic disease called sporadic Inclusion Body Myositis (sIBM for short). It is a rare, degenerative muscle disease for which there is no treatment. Because of this, I also suffer from ongoing depression although it is not major depression. In addition to sIBM, there are two other major forms of myositis called Polymyositis (PM) and Dermatomyositis (DM). These forms are also incurable, but there are some treatments for them that often have serious side effects. I am sure that everyone with myositis suffers from some degree of depression. For more information on myositis, you can go to http://www.myositis.org.