Primary Care Physician Dr. Nora Lansen Explains How Mental And Physical Health Are Linked - Exclusive

When primary care physician Dr. Nora Lansen has an appointment with a patient, she wants to hear about much more than just the symptoms that brought them into her office or her virtual office on the Galileo app. Dr. Lansen practices active listening so she can understand her patients' concerns, but she also asks questions that may seem like they have nothing to do with the symptoms her patient is reporting – how stressed they are, if they've experienced trauma at some point in their lives, and how they take care of themselves to stay happy and healthy.

Dr. Lansen asks these questions of every patient because she knows that mental health has a major impact on physical health. She believes that her job as a primary care physician is to take care of the whole patient, not just their body. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Lansen explained how physical and mental health are linked and how struggles with mental health can present as physical illness.

The mind-body connection

Lansen explained that although research hasn't completely figured out the intimate connection between the body and the mind, it has proven that there is a connection.

"Emerging research demonstrates all sorts of interesting links," she said. "For instance, there is evidence that a relationship exists between the bacteria that occupy our digestive system – our 'gut flora' — and the effective functioning of our neuroendocrine system, which directly impacts our behavioral health. More of these connections will be revealed over time and will better explain how intricately linked our physical and mental health is."

Lansen went on to say that focusing solely on a patient's physical symptoms without considering their mental health can lead to an improper diagnosis. She shared the hypothetical example of patient who's convinced that their acid reflux is caused by eating too much processed food late at night. When asked why they're snacking late at night, the patient reveals that their job is really stressful and they're working late and missing dinner. 

Lansen said that a primary care physician who's mindful of the impact mental health can have on physical health would examine anxiety as a possible cause of acid reflux along with potential physical causes.

Symptoms that can indicate an underlying mental health issue

Several physical symptoms that people deal with on a regular basis can indicate that they might be dealing with an undiagnosed mental health problem, Dr. Lansen explained.

"Common symptoms of anxiety and depression include fatigue, weight change, headache, chest pain, palpitations, and stomachache," she elaborated. "These aren't the only symptoms; they're just some of the most common ones. Almost anything — including visible signs, like hives — may have emotional distress as a root cause. This is not to say that every physical symptom is fabricated by an anxious patient, simply to say that many mental health issues can manifest physically."

When a patient complains of any symptoms that Lansen knows could be caused by an underlying mental health problem, she does a full physical workup and performs a mental health screening to ensure that she's getting all the information she needs to make an informed diagnosis. She stressed that getting a full picture of a patient's physical and mental health is crucial to a proper diagnosis, especially because it may never occur to a patient that their physical symptoms could be linked to their mental health.

Learn more about Galileo at