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Zorba Paster: Pain, depression often go hand in hand

As a family doc, I see a lot of depression. I also see a lot of pain. In fact, pain is the No. 1 reason patients visit.

Arthritis, fibromyalgia, achy muscles, broken bones, sprains, strains, lots and lots of pain. But chronic pain – that’s a bummer and new research shows it really can bum you out.

Up to 50 percent of the time, chronic pain and depression go hand in hand, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

People who are hurting physically and emotionally often end up not caring about much. You don’t want to go out with your buddies, or have dinner with your kids. Worst of all, you probably don’t even want to watch the Sabres to see if they make the NHL playoffs.

Which came first – the pain or the depression? The answer is – it doesn’t matter. Patients with chronic pain and depression need both annihilated.

And that’s basically what the study found. Treating both depression and pain is better than treating just one.

The treatment study group was given 12 weeks of antidepressants and psychological counseling followed by six weeks of pain management therapy. The other group got the usual care. Pain meds for pain, antidepressants for depression. No counseling.

The results were dramatic. The “Treatment Study Group” was twice as likely to have their depression improved and four times as likely (can you believe it?) to have their depressive symptoms disappear. Not only that, but their pain got better and better over time.

My spin:

If you’re depressed and if you have pain, you need both.

Who can treat you for this? Your family doc, internist, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, any of them will do, but you need to insist on treating both your pain and your depression.

For some, that insistence means taking an advocate with you – someone who loves you and wants you to get better. Bring them with you to help you talk to your doc. Sometimes in the office people get shy. Having someone to speak up for you can save the game.

And then you’ll want to watch the Sabres, even if they don’t make the playoffs.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.