Treat Depression, Pain Separately

woman in pain holding head
Depression often accompanies chronic pain, but the two conditions may best be treated separately, a study in May's Arthritis & Rheumatism shows.

The study centered on people with fibromyalgia -- a syndrome characterized by a history of chronic, widespread pain and tenderness to touch. Many of these patients also may suffer from depression.

"There is an incorrect impression among many doctors that if you treat a patient's depression, it will make their pain better. Not so," says researcher Daniel J. Clauw, MD, in a news release.

"If someone has pain and depression, you have to treat both," says Clauw. He is a rheumatology professor at the University of Michigan and the director of the University of Michigan's Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

It's possible that the findings could apply to other patients with chronic pain conditions, the news release notes. However, the study only looked at chronic pain and depression with fibromyalgia. They show that brain regions activated by pain are different from those activated by depression.

Finding From Fibromyalgia Study

Clauw's study tracked depression and pain in 33 women and 20 men diagnosed with fibromyalgia and 42 people who did not have fibromyalgia.

Researchers scanned participants' brain activity in regions that process pain sensation.

The findings showed that the existence or level of depression in people with fibromyalgia did not modulate pain sensation. In other words, the magnitude of pain was only weakly associated with self-reported depression.