What Is Chronic Pain?
In the medical community, time markers are often used to assist in the diagnosis of chronic pain. Many physicians, for example, consider pain to be “chronic” when it is present for more than 3 months. However, there is some debate as to the usefulness of these markers, as they tend to neglect the multidimensionality of chronic pain. Suffice to say, then, that “chronic pain” may be simply defined as “pain that does not go away.” This is in direct contrast to acute pain, which is the body’s normal, temporary response to pain signals.
How Does Chronic Pain Affect the Body?
Chronic pain has been associated with the following physiological effects:
- Elevated levels of cortisol
- Although it has other functions, cortisol is one of the more important “stress hormones.” These are the hormones produced by your body when there is a perceived threat. While rare, persistent, high levels of cortisol can lead to Cushing Syndrome, a syndrome that carries an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
- Sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased presence of central sensitization. This is an over-excited state of the nervous system that can lead to the amplification of pain symptoms.
- Mood disorders, including Major Depressive Disorder
- Chronic pain, especially pain without a known physiological cause, has been linked with an increased likelihood of psychiatric disorders.
Why Does Chronic Pain Cause Depression?
From a patient standpoint, it may seem obvious why pain might cause depression. Chronic pain reduces mobility, which can cause isolation and anxiety. Furthermore, a lack of restful sleep has a noticeable effect on an individual’s productivity and stress levels after one or two nights.
From a medical standpoint, the answer to this question remains somewhat controversial. It is not yet known definitively if pain causes depression, or if depression exacerbates pain symptoms. What has been established is that pain and depression “often coexist, respond to similar treatments, exacerbate one another, and share biological pathways and neurotransmitters.”
What Should I Do If I Have Chronic Pain and Feel Depressed?
The link between chronic pain and depression, regardless of cause and effect, has been well established. Even still, depression may often go undiagnosed or underreported in chronic pain patients in a primary care setting. Because of this, patients suffering from pain who also feel depressed may benefit from psychiatric evaluation and management in addition to prescribed regimens for physical discomfort.
The Crane Center, LLC is open and accepting new patients for both virtual and in-person appointments. If you are experiencing chronic pain and symptoms of depression, contact our office today to see how we can help you.