Dr. Nora Lansen Reveals Which Physical Symptoms May Indicate An Underlying Mental Health Issue - Exclusive

When you head to the doctor to talk about physical symptoms you're experiencing, you're probably expecting a physical diagnosis — an infection, a virus, a disease, or a syndrome. You're probably not expecting to be told that your physical symptoms could be caused by an underlying mental health issue. But this doesn't mean that your physical symptoms are all in your head. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and chronic stress can all have very real impacts on your body and manifest physical symptoms.

Dr. Nora Lansen, a holistic primary care physician and the virtual clinical director at Galileo, is very familiar with how undiagnosed mental health problems can cause physical health problems. Because a wide range of common symptoms can be caused by mental health struggles, she always assesses her patients' bodies and minds when investigating their symptoms.

In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Lansen revealed which common physical symptoms can indicate underlying mental health issues and how those issues can be addressed by your primary care doctor.

Physical symptoms that can indicate mental health issues

Dr. Nora Lansen said that it's essential for primary care doctors to ask their patients about their emotional well-being, their lifestyle, and their stress levels at every appointment because mental health problems can manifest as so many different kinds of mental health issues.

"Common symptoms of anxiety and depression include fatigue, weight change, headache, chest pain, palpitations, and stomachache," she explained. "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."

Dr. Lansen stressed that these symptoms are not "fabricated by an anxious patient." They are very real physical symptoms caused by the close connection between the body and the mind.

"We've long known that there is a connection between mind and body," she said. "Science hasn't yet fully explained the biochemistry of it, but emerging research demonstrates all sorts of interesting links ... Many mental health issues can manifest physically."

Getting to the correct diagnosis

Dr. Nora Lansen went on to say that it can be difficult to figure out whether physical disease or mental health issues are behind symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, headaches, and stomachaches because they're such prevalent symptoms. She gave the example of depression and hypothyroidism: Both conditions can cause fatigue and weight gain, so a physician has to decide which diagnosis fits best. To do this, Lansen said that primary care doctors should be running tests for hypothyroidism and giving their patients a mental health screening.

She added that getting as much information about the patient's life as possible is crucial to identifying the true cause of their symptoms. A collection of physical symptoms that doesn't seem to fit any physical diagnosis may leave a doctor stumped unless they ask about what's going on in their patients' personal lives. Symptoms that seemed unrelated initially may make a lot more sense if the doctor finds out, for example, that the patient has been dealing with an unprecedented amount of stress or a major loss. That information could change their entire diagnostic approach.

With all of her patients, in person or virtually on the Galileo app, Dr. Lansen uses "active listening" and builds solid rapport so they feel safe telling her about everything impacting their bodies and minds — not just the physical symptoms that brought them to the office.

Learn more about Galileo at https://galileo.io/.