Patients don't recognize physical symptoms as possible indicators of depression and anxiety disorders

Each year, millions of Americans visit their doctor with physical complaints such as headaches or fatigue, but few realize that these symptoms can be common signs of depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which can result in an improper diagnosis.

In fact, a new survey has found that when people were asked to name the symptoms of these conditions, approximately 60 percent didn't recognize the potential physical symptoms of depression, and approximately 75 percent didn't associate physical symptoms with GAD. Although physical complaints can be signs of both disorders, the survey indicates that patients are not associating them with depression or anxiety disorders, and a proper diagnosis and treatment could be at risk. "Many patients come to my office with only vague aches and pains, and frequently they respond to pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medication," said Steven Lamm, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University, Bellevue. "However, if the patient also talked about emotional symptoms such as feeling sad, a loss of interest in favorite activities and in spending time with friends and family, or difficulty concentrating, I may recognize these as symptoms of depression.

The good news is that when both types of symptoms are presented, and depression or generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed, proper treatment for these conditions can be recommended and remission of symptoms, which is the goal of treatment, can be achieved." The results of the new survey indicate an overall need to educate patients that depression and GAD have a broad range of symptoms, and it is important for patients to recognize and share them with their doctor.

For instance, digestive problems can be physical symptom of both conditions. However, only three percent of those surveyed identified it as a potential symptom of depression, and only one percent could identify it as a potential sign of GAD. In addition, less than three percent of those surveyed named fatigue as a symptom of GAD, and only six percent recognized headaches as a symptom. An accurate diagnosis that considers all emotional and physical symptoms can lead to an appropriate treatment regimen. "I encourage anyone who experiences symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, or symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder for more than six months, to consult their doctor," added Lamm. "Both conditions are highly treatable, and a doctor may be able to recommend treatment to resolve these symptoms so that patients can get back to being themselves."

Tips for Coping With Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The following tips may be helpful for those experiencing the emotional and physical symptoms associated with depression and GAD:

  • Persevere to achieve remission (virtual elimination) of symptoms, not just partial improvement. With the right treatment, it is possible to get back to being yourself.
  • Recognize that it might take time for you to find the treatment that works best for you. Recovery from depression and anxiety disorders is not simply a matter of taking medication, and the process requires patience.
  • Allow your friends and family to share their feelings with you. Open lines of communication are essential to strong relationships, especially under difficult circumstances.
  • Find the right balance between your needs and the needs of your loved ones. Your friends and family may want to carve out time to pursue their own interests and socialize.

The Omnibus survey was conducted in conjunction with the national depression and anxiety awareness campaign GOAL! (Go On And Live!) and was funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. GOAL! was created to raise awareness about the emotional and physical symptoms associated with depression and anxiety disorders, and it aims to encourage those who suffer from these conditions to seek treatment that will help them achieve remission of symptoms.

To learn more about living beyond depression and anxiety disorders, visit the GOAL!. International Communications Research of Media, Pa., conducted this survey based on interviews with a representative sample of 1,010 American consumers, utilizing random digit samples of telephone numbers selected from telephone exchanges in the continental United States. For a survey this size, the sampling error is +/- 3.08 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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