Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and heart disease is by far the leading cause of death in the United States (it’s currently estimated that one in three Americans will die of some form of heart disease).
Research over the past two decades has shown that depression and heart disease are common companions. Findings from recent studies indicate that depression is a significantly important risk factor for heart disease that’s nearly equal to the risks presented by High Blood cholesterol and High Blood Pressure. While it’s estimated that one in six people will experience an episode of major depression at least once in their life, the number rises to one in two for people with heart disease.
Depression can appear after heart disease and/or heart disease surgery. In one investigation, nearly half of the patients studied one week after cardiopulmonary bypass surgery experienced serious cognitive problems, which for some patients can contribute to clinical depression.
Depression may make it harder for individuals to take the medications needed and to carry out the treatment for heart disease. Furthermore, studies have shown that most heart patients aren’t treated for depression, which could be the result of doctors either missing the diagnosis of the condition or attempting to treat their patients symptoms with sedatives that make depression worse.
For Many, Heart Disease Follows Depression
There are also multiple studies indicating that heart disease can follow depression. The kind of psychological distress experienced during depression can cause rapid heartbeat, High Blood Pressure, and faster blood clotting. Depression may also result in chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (part of the instinctive fight or flight response) can demand increased work from the heart and when individuals are caught in a prolonged fight or flight reaction the body s metabolism is diverted away from the type of tissue repair needed to counter heart disease.
With Treatment, Comes Hope
Depression is highly treatable. Knowing what the symptoms of depression are and getting therapeutic help at the very first signs of the condition can save you untold emotional pain and physical suffering. Regardless of which comes first—depression then heart disease, or heart disease then depression—effective treatment of depression is imperative.
Preventative interventions based on cognitive-behavior therapy can promote adherence and behavior change that can help avoid adverse outcomes associated with both depression and heart disease. With the advent of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to treat depression, more heart patients can be effectively treated without risking the complicating cardiovascular side-effects of many of the previously available drugs. Ongoing research is also investigating whether these treatments also reduce the associated risk of a second heart attack.
Exercise is another important measure towards reducing both depression and heart disease. Observational studies continually indicate that exercise is related to fewer depressive symptoms and adequate exercise is, of course, a major protective factor against heart disease as well.