Note: This story is the fourth in a series from our annual Health & Wellness special section, first published in the April 1 print edition and sponsored by Franciscan Health.
It may seem routine, but a visit with your doctor might have more benefits than you realize.
Patients who regularly see their general care physician not only help maintain their physical health but improve their mental health as well, according to Dr. Dionna Lomax, a general family care physician at Specialty Physicians of Illinois in Homewood.
“Continuity of care” by a general health practitioner can be the first step to identifying a mental health problem, she said.
“I think there is sometimes a lack of awareness of the connection that your body can have with your mind,” Lomax said. “I have many patients who may come in for chest pain or even visit the ER for chest pain. And they actually have untreated anxiety or panic attacks.”
Lomax said mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can sometimes manifest in a person’s “body not feeling well.”
Harvard Medical School researchers published findings in 2021 that found that the connection between mental conditions like anxiety and depression and the pain in the body are more than just psychological. In fact, pain and mental conditions can share biological mechanisms. Your body’s pain sensors can be activated when the brain lacks the needed levels of serotonin or norepinephrine, a condition that may be connected to anxiety and depression.
Awareness of the mind-body connections can help doctors diagnose and treat problems more effectively.
Lomax said that when she knows a patient, she can identify “outside stressors” in their life that could result in medical diagnoses such as depression and anxiety. She used the example of a patient experiencing chest pain as the result of grief or past trauma.
“I can take a step back and say, ‘Well, I can understand that this can be heart disease, or this can be a lung condition. But knowing you and looking at your tests, I think there’s something else going on.’”
When practicing medicine, Lomax looks at a patient “as a whole person,” she said. This is what she calls a “holistic” approach to healthcare.
“I see all ages of patients from ages one through geriatric care – meaning, the elderly,” Lomax said. “I like the relationships that I create with patients, and I enjoy seeing them reach their healthcare goal.”
Lomax has been a family care physician for 13 years and she’s worked at Specialty Physicians of Illinois for four years.