Everyone experiences pain at some point, but in people with
depression or anxiety, pain can become particularly intense and
hard to treat. People suffering from depression, for example, tend
to experience more severe and long-lasting pain than other people.
The overlap of anxiety, depression, and pain is particularly
evident in chronic and sometimes disabling pain syndromes such as
fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, headaches,
and nerve pain. For example, about two-thirds of patients with
irritable bowel syndrome who are referred for follow-up care have
symptoms of psychological distress, most often anxiety. About 65%
of patients seeking help for depression also report at least one
type of pain symptom. Psychiatric disorders not only contribute to
pain intensity but also to increased risk of disability.
Researchers once thought the reciprocal relationship between pain,
anxiety, and depression resulted mainly from psychological rather
than biological factors. Chronic pain is depressing, and likewise
major depression may feel physically painful. But as researchers
have learned more about how the brain works, and how the nervous
system interacts with other parts of the body, they have discovered
that pain shares some biological mechanisms with anxiety and
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