According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Depression affects millions of American adults every year. While these two diseases might not immediately appear to be related, they are, in fact, intertwined.
The relationship between these two diseases is complex. Research done over the past twenty years has revealed that patients who suffer from heart disease are more prone to develop depression, and people who suffer from depression are more likely to have heart disease than otherwise healthy people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Facts About Depression
Depression is a medical condition that can seriously impact a person's emotions, thoughts, and their ability to efficiently function in everyday activities. Depression is often brought about due to abnormal brain functions resulting from a lack of Serotonins, which are chemicals in the brain that affect mood. Other causes of depression may include family history, stress levels, and drug interactions.
Some of the more common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, or pessimism
- Lack of interest in hobbies or activities that were once pleasurable
- Decreased amount of energy or fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite and weight, either losing or gaining weight
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Restlessness or irritability
Facts About Heart Disease
The heart requires a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients carried to it via blood from the coronary arteries. When these arteries become narrowed or clogged, the heart cannot get enough blood. This can result in pain, which is called angina pectoris, in the chest or left arm and shoulder. When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack.
Heart disease can be easily mistaken for other conditions, especially in women. Many people mistake the early warning signs for indigestion, pulled muscles, and stress.
In some cases, however, heart disease presents no prior symptoms before a person has a heart attack.
Some of the common symptoms of heart disease include:
- Chest pain and shortness of breath
- A feeling of tightness, heaviness, or burning in the chest area, usually behind the breastbone
- Pain or stiffness in the neck, jaws, or arms
Risk factors that contribute to heart disease include high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, heredity, and smoking. You can control some of these risk factors by engaging in regular physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking. Heart disease can also be treated with medications and in some cases, surgery to unblock clogged arteries.
The Connection Between Heart Disease and Depression
There are many connections between these two diseases. Each disease can contribute to the development of the other, and interfere with proper treatment as well. Here are some of the more prominent findings from studies over the past two decades:
- Depression can affect heart rhythms, increase blood pressure, alter blood clotting and can result in chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, according to the American Heart Association. It has also been found that depression can cause people to be less concerned about their nutrition and overall health.
- Depression frequently appears in people who have had a heart attack or cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. The NIMH statistics show that 1 in 3 people who have survived a heart attack will have at least one major bout of depression during the course of their recovery.
- Depression may make it more difficult for people with heart disease to take their medications and follow their prescribed diet and exercise routines. As a result, people suffering from both depression and heart disease have an overall poorer prognosis for long-term recovery, according to a study by the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Additionally, people with heart disease may tend to be more negative about their prognosis, which can worsen their depression, as well.
Heart disease and depression are both serious illnesses. Fortunately, both diseases can often be controlled through medication and lifestyle changes. If you have been diagnosed with one or both of these conditions, work carefully with your physician to find the medications and lifestyle choices that are right for you.