The National Institute of Mental Health (2010) reports that approximately 14.8 million American adults are depressed each year. While this statistic may seem astounding, the incidence of depression rises even more dramatically when a person also suffers from heart disease. In fact, people who survive heart attacks or are hospitalized with heart problems have a depression rate that is three times greater than the general population, according to the American Heart Association (2010).
Although researchers are still conducting studies to unearth the link between the heart and depression, a few theories currently stand at the forefront.
Heart Disease/Depression: The Link
Several theories attempt to explain the connection between depression and heart disease. The first states that depressed individuals are likely to live unhealthy lifestyles, contributing to heart disease. Supporters of this theory suggest that depressed people are far more likely to
- Abuse alcohol and drugs
- Eat unhealthy foods
- Lead sedentary lifestyles.
According to this theory, symptoms of depression make people less likely to comply with instructions to take prescription medication for depression and/or other health problems. Because they are less likely to take care of themselves, these individuals are more likely to suffer from heart disease.
The second theory is that stress, one of many symptoms of depression, causes physiological changes that contribute to the development of heart disease. This theory suggests that stress raises levels of cortisol, a hormone that speeds up heart rate and increases fat deposits in the abdominal region, among other functions. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol may:
- Cause arrhythmia
- Â Increase bad cholesterol
- Lead to the development of heart disease.
While researchers are still exploring the viability of these possible theories, some suggest that science’s reluctance to explore the way mental states manifest in a physical manner is to blame for our inability to understand the link between heart disease and depression.
Some Heart and Depression Statistics
Researchers at Harvard Medical School (2008) report that patients hospitalized for heart attacks that develop depression are more likely to experience complications than their non-depressed counterparts.
A Johns Hopkins University (2004) study concluded that heart attack patients who are depressed are twice as likely to have another heart issue within a year. These patients are also three times more likely to die from a future heart condition, as compared to those who aren’t depressed.
According to a study performed by researchers at Emory University and Yale University (2003), depressed individuals have elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a substance that can increase an individual’s risk of developing heart disease.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (2009) reports that one in three patients reports symptoms of depression after a heart attack.
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2009). Depression after a heart attack. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/heartdisease/recovery/702.html.
American Heart Association. (2010). Depression and CHD–Summary page. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3059621.
Bush, D. E., Ziegelstein, R. C., Patel, U. V., Thombs, B. D., Ford, D. E., Fauerbach, J. A. …