Focus: The Depression/Heart Disease Link
Emotional well-being and physical health seem to be linked
in many ways, and heart disease is no different. A study published in a
well-known European cardiology journal has shown that from a sampling of 17,541
men and women older than 40 who had some form of heart disease:
- 4.1 percent of those reporting psychological distress
had coronary artery disease
- 6.4 percent reporting psychological distress had a
history of heart attack
- 10 percent reporting psychological distress had heart
Researchers used these numbers and determined that it’s
likely that more than 1 million Americans with a history of heart disease are
suffering from depression.
Depression associated with poorer outcomes
Besides the simple fact that suffering from some type of
emotional problem is difficult, it’s been known for years that heart patients
who do suffer from depression have poorer outcomes, including increased
mortality, in the months after a heart attack. And depression itself is
under-treated. Research shows that only about one third of Americans who have
depression receive a referral to a mental health professional.
A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine has
shed some light on why depression increases mortality in heart patients.
Researchers have discovered that heart patients who are experiencing depression
have what’s called a “low heart rate variability.” Heart rate variability is
what allows your heart to change its rate depending on the level of demand. In
other words, when your heart rate variability is low, your heart doesn’t respond
as quickly as it should.
Lower heart rate variability has been linked to higher
death rate in heart patients, but this is the first time that researchers have
so clearly identified a link between heart patients, depression and HRV.
Who’s most at risk for depression?
Research indicates that members of the population most at
risk for depression include
- Being female, Hispanic or African-American
- Being obese
- Being inactive
- Having less than a high school education
Symptoms of depression
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Lack of interest in activities that used to be
pleasurable, including sexual activity
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Change in appetite and weight
- Thoughts of suicide
Researchers are suggesting that people with heart disease
should get screening for depression. But you don’t have to wait for your doctor
to screen you. If you’re a heart patient and you have some of the symptoms of
depression, be sure to talk to your doctor about it. Depression is highly
treatable, and with everything we now know about depression and your health,
there’s a real possibility that the treatment could save your life.
Archives of Internal Medicine, July 2005;
European Heart Journal, June 2005; National Institute of Mental Health