350 million people suffer from depression, worldwide.
That number triples in people who have survived a heart attack.
Of course our risk of depression will increase if we are diagnosed with a serious heart condition or following the trauma of a heart attack. But is there a possibility that suffering from depression may actually increase our risk of developing heart attack?
Experts say yes. Here’s why.
Heart Disease and Depression: Why You Shouldn't Ignore the Relationship
How Depression Can Bring Heart Disease
Scientists have suggested that certain mechanisms could be the link between depression and cardiovascular disease.
These may include diminished heart rate variability, the impact depression has on our blood platelet function, and non-compliance with treatments.
Similarly, impaired immune function, chronic fatigue, and anxiety—all commonly associated with depression—could play a role in increasing our risk of developing heart disease.
The Link between Cardio Disease and Depression
With 350 million people suffering from depression, and 17.3 million dying of heart disease each year, researchers are impatient to find hard evidence of the link.
The Indiana University-Purdue University School of Science explains that thirty years of data on the topic shows that depression predicts the development of heart disease.
Jesse C. Stewart, Ph.D., says that those of us with depressive disorder or symptoms of depression have a 64% greater risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Mental Health and Physical Implications
People who suffer from depression can engage in lifestyle habits that would typically put us at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and are also known to be causes of depression. Lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking, poor food choices, binge eating, or heavy drinking can be common in those who suffer from depression.
There is also a link between depression and skipping medications.
Specific anti-depressant medications can cause weight gain, which in turn puts strain on our arteries, and increases blood pressure.
If you experience weight gain related to your medications, it is important to speak with your doctor. Experts stress the importance of not stopping your medications on your own.
According to Milena A. Gebska, M.D., Ph.D., changes in specific medication combinations, or adjusting dosages, is often all that is required.
Gebska also notes that patients who have been diagnosed with heart disease, and in particular those who suffer from a heart attack, are at risk of being diagnosed with depression.
Some researchers put this down to the likelihood of being diagnosed with other issues once you are in the healthcare system. By this logic, many people who have avoided seeking medical advice for their mental health issues in the past are more comfortable speaking with their doctor when they are being treated already.
Increased health literacy, following diagnosis of an illness, can lead to a patient seeking help for other issues.
Causes of Heart Disease
The causes of heart disease vary depending on the type of heart disease we are dealing with. Although the types and causes are extensive, we will outline them in simple terms here.
Caused by atherosclerosis—damage to your heart or blood vessels by an accumulation of fatty plaques in the arteries. These plaques (much like plaque on the teeth) harden over time, and restrict blood flow to organs and tissues.
Plaque buildup can be caused by lack of exercise, smoking, being overweight, and unhealthy eating habits.
Caused by irregular or abnormal heart rhythms. This is often caused by congenital heart defects, but can also be attributed to diabetes, smoking, alcohol and caffeine use, drug abuse, chronic stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
Fatal arrhythmia can also be triggered in a healthy person by a severe electric shock, and some illegal substances.
This is very different from a short-term elevated heart rate following exercise, stressful situations, or an anxious episode. If you need to learn how to slow a rapid heartbeat from anxiety or stress, there are mindfulness exercises which can help.
Caused by a thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle. There are many triggers for this, and they may include: infection, ingesting toxins or drugs, genetics, high blood pressure, age, excessive iron buildup, and some cancer treatments.
We still have a lot to learn, but studies show that the link between depression and heart disease is a two way street. Mental illnesses put us at greater risk of developing heart disease, and heart disease puts us at greater risk of developing depression.
It’s important not to ignore the relationship between heart disease and depression. If you have any concerns about your mental or cardiovascular health, the first step is to talk to your doctor.