Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pain can mask depression, say experts

Read this in the news today:

Medical experts believe that one reason why most cases of depression are untreated is because the illness may be masked as pain in the body.

Malaysian Psychiatric Association president Dr Yen Teck Hoe said many patients and medical practitioners fail to recognise physical pain as a common symptom of depression.

“Doctors often dispense painkillers to relieve the pain as it is presumed that the root of the problem is from the area that hurts.

“However, people forget that it is the brain and mind which controls the body,” he said at the first Malaysian Pain and Depression Day Media Workshop at the PJ Hilton here yesterday.

Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) psychological medicine department senior lecturer Dr Jesjeet Singh Gill said depression may be manifested as pain because the illness would disrupt serotonin activity in the body. Serotonin is the bodily chemical which regulates pain.

“When this happens, depressed people are unable to control the painful sensation compared to someone who is not depressed,” he said.

The department’s consultant psychiatrist Prof Dr Nor Zuraida Zainal said depression also weakens the body’s immunity and increases a person’s chances of getting an infection.

She revealed that 59% of lower back pain patients were diagnosed with depression while previous case studies showed that pain also occurred in other areas such as the chest and jaw.

Asean Federation for Psychiatry and Mental Health president Prof Dr Mohamad Hussain Habil said the current economic crisis, including risk of unemployment were factors leading to depression today.

“It is projected that depression will be the second most disabling disease by 2020,” he said.

Another department senior lecturer Dr Ting Joe Hang said doctors should interact more with their patients to pick up hints on depression during diagnosis.

“Depressed patients should not stop medication prematurely because there is a 60% to 70% chance of a relapse,” he added.

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