HEART SICK: Exploring the link between depression and heart disease


Research continues to explain the complex ways that mental and physical health impact one another. Emotional, psychological, and social factors can certainly play a vital role in maintaining physical wellness. While, feeling physically healthy and stable can affect stress levels, as well as feelings of hopelessness and depression.

A few facts are clear:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. (approximately 1 in 4 deaths)
  • Approximately 19 million Americans are affected by depression in a given year
  • About 1 in 20 Americans experience a major depression each year, however, this number jumps to 1 in 3 for those who have suffered a heart attack

A longitudinal study in Norway demonstrated that people with mild depression were 5% more likely suffer heart failure than non-depressed people, while the risk for those with more intense symptoms of depression increased to 40%. Such studies suggest that increased feelings of depression can lead to increased instances of heart disease. While depression does not cause heart disease,  there is definitely a strong relationship between the two conditions. Additionally, individuals with heart disease tend toward depression more often than the rest of the population.

Psychological factors can lead to physiological changes that may negatively impact health. Depression can have an effect on things like blood pressure and heart rhythms, and lead to elevated cholesterol, insulin, and stress hormones Ongoing stress, for example, can lead to various health conditions including headaches and elevated blood pressure.

Depression and heart disease are both conditions that affect a large percentage of the population. Many people suffer from both of these conditions simultaneously. So, how are the two related? Dr. Roy Zieglstein from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center suggests that the two impact one another in a couple of different ways. First, he suggests that individuals who suffer from a heart attack or heart failure may become depressed. Additionally, when people feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, they tend to make less healthy lifestyle choices. This means they may be more likely to choose unhealthy foods and binge eat, they may drink more alcohol and are more likely to smoke. These types of behaviors are all considered unhealthy but may provide the depressed individual with a feeling of comfort.  Issues like smoking and obesity often put people at a higher risk for heart failure. Depressed people may also fail to take prescribed medications, compounding existing problems.

What measures can you take to avoid these conditions?

Though obviously related and frequently co-occurring, the exact connection between heart disease and depression is unclear.   Depression, in its early stages,  can be effectively treated. In addition, there are simple things you can do to decrease your chances of both depression and heart disease.

 Feeling anxious? Look for the cause of stress. Try to identifying and eliminate or minimize contact with stressors.

  • Move your body. The benefits of exercise on emotional and physical wellness cannot be overstated. You don’t have to go to the gym – just get out and walk.
  • Eat good food. Fresh, heart-healthy dietary choices can make a world of difference, even if you have eaten poorly in the past.
  • Adequate sleep and downtime. Take care of yourself. Try to rest when you need it and give your mind and body time to recharge.

It’s very important to support your own wellness through activities like the ones noted above. Making healthier choices can make a world of difference in how you feel. Even if you implement all of these behaviors, please remember that both depression and heart disease are serious medical conditions that require monitoring and treatment by a professional.

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/clinical_services/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/depression_heart_disease.html http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608

About Behavioral Health Professionals, Inc.:

Established in 2002 and headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, BHPI is a Managed Behavioral Health Organization offering behavioral health services through a fully integrated network of world-class healthcare providers.  Our emphasis is on adding value for our customers by offering expert behavioral care management, medical coordination, and behavioral disease and chronic behavioral condition management.  BHPI offers collaborative solutions by building strong partnerships with HMOs, Health Systems, Insurance Companies, and Employer groups.  For more information visit: BHPI.org