anxiety or depression is a physical problem in disguise

When anxiety or depression is a physical problem in disguise

Gastroenterology, Psychiatry

Some decades ago, illnesses of the body and of the mind where considered separate phenomena.  Doctors were segregated into two groups: those who treated illnesses of the body and those doctors who treated illnesses of the mind. Mostly, these doctors didn’t mix together much.

Now we understand how deeply related are the mind and physical illness, and how emotional problems can sometimes cause or worsen some physical illnesses. Despite this understanding of the body-mind connection, a report published in the medical journal Psychiatric Times discussed a problem not well recognized by many patients and many doctors.

The problem is: people who are being treated for depression or anxiety, but the problem is actually that they have an underlying physical illness, that manifests with anxiety or depression.

The article in Psychiatric Times listed over 47 physical illnesses that can present with anxiety or depression. The illnesses can be seen here, but range from heart rhythm problems to cancer of the pancreas. The article also mentioned 30 different types of medications that can cause anxiety. You can see more details about these in the original article (free subscription required). But here is a list of the more common illnesses that can manifest in that way.

Some illness that might manifest as anxiety or depression



Heart failure or heart attack

Heart rhythm problems

Endocrine diseases (adrenal, thyroid, or pituitary)

Gastrointestinal reflux

Irritable bowel syndrome

Gastric or duodenal ulcers

Rheumatoid arthritis

Metabolic disturbances such as electrolyte imbalances

Brain tumors, syphilis of the nervous system, multiple sclerosis

Migraine headaches


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Sleep apnea

In children the diseases are more often related to gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomachache or sleep problems, which might include frequent nightmares and teeth grinding.

This is only a partial list, and it is typically difficult for a doctor or patient to realize that what they think is a psychological issue really has an underlying physical cause.

According to the prestigious Mayo Clinic (Minnesota, USA), here are some signs that might indicate that what you think is anxiety or depression might have a physical cause:

  • None of your blood relatives has an anxiety disorder.
  • You didn’t have an anxiety disorder as a child.
  • You developed anxiety seemingly without any reason.
  • You don’t avoid certain things or situations because of anxiety.

Both mental health professionals and people suffering from anxiety or depression should be aware of the possibility of an underlying physical illness. If any questions, referral to a medical doctors for a complete exam with necessary blood tests and perhaps imaging exams would be a wise course.

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Read also in ProcuraMed:

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Turmeric may help post-traumatic stress syndrome

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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