Rachel Fieldhouse


Physical symptoms linked to genetic risk of depression

Physical symptoms linked to genetic risk of depression

People who experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue and migraines are also more likely to have a higher genetic risk of clinical depression, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Queensland collaborated with the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital to conduct a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

They analysed data from over 15,000 volunteers, who provided information about their mental health history, depression symptoms, and a DNA sample.

The team found that participants who had a higher genetic risk of developing clinical depression were more likely to experience additional physical symptoms.

Dr Enda Byrne, a senior research fellow in psychiatric genetics and one of the researchers involved, said the study aimed to improve understanding of the genetic risks of depression and how other symptoms can be used to aid diagnosis.

Dr Enda Byrnes, the senior author of the latest study on depression and genetic risk. Image: The University of Queensland

“A large proportion of people with clinically-diagnosed depression present initially to doctors with physical symptoms that cause distress and can severely impact on people’s quality of life,” he said.

“Our research aimed to better understand the biological basis of depression and found that assessing a broad range of symptoms was important.

“We wanted to see how genetic risk factors based on clinical definitions of depression differed - from those based on a single question to those based on a doctor’s consultation about mental health problems.”

Genetic risks of depression, explained

Many different factors can contribute to the onset of depression, and there is strong evidence to suggest that genetics can affect the likelihood of developing the mental illness.

Individuals can be predisposed to developing depression if someone in their family has been diagnosed. If a person’s biological parent has been diagnosed with clinical depression, their genetic risk of developing the illness sits at about 40 percent, with the other 60 percent coming from factors in their environment such as stress and age.

Previous studies have also examined the role genetics plays in depression, but Dr Byrne said it can be difficult to find genetic risk factors that are specific to clinical depression.

“Previous genetic studies have included participants who report having seen a doctor for worries or tension - but who may not meet the ‘official’ criteria for a diagnosis of depression,” he said.

The researchers also stressed the importance of using a large number of samples in order to identify the risk factors for clinical depression but not for other definitions of depression.

“It is also linked to higher rates of somatic symptoms - that is, physical symptoms that cause distress and can severely impact on people’s quality of life,” Dr Byrne said.

“Our results highlight the need for larger studies investigating the broad range of symptoms experienced by people with depression.”

Image: Getty Images

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