When facing heart disease, the immediate concerns are often physical. One important issue, however, that’s often overlooked is how the disease affects one’s mental health.
People who suffer from heart disease may feel overwhelmed and anxious about the future, perhaps feel guilty about the lifestyle they lead previously and can lack confidence in their abilities going forward. Some of that is normal, but these feelings can also be a sign of depression, which, if not treated, can have a serious effect on one’s recovery and future heart health.
The link between depression and heart disease
It’s difficult to determine the rate at which depression is a result of heart disease since depression often goes undiagnosed and a person may have suffered from it before heart disease. However, experts say about one in five people will suffer from depression soon after a heart attack or heart failure.
It’s important that people get help for depression as those with depression are found to have lower recovery rates and a higher death risk. This is due to depression resulting in everything from lack of motivation to change one’s lifestyle habits to the fact that depression causes physical changes in the body that increase the risk for more heart problems.
According to the American Heart Association, while approximately 1 in 10 Americans over 18 suffer from depression, the rate is as high as 33 percent in heart attack patients. Not only do people suffering from heart disease become depressed, but there also seems to be evidence that people who previously suffered from depression may be more prone to heart disease. A study out of Maryland found that those with depression were four times more likely to have a heart attack in the next 14 years. One reason may be that often depression gets in the way of healthy habits such as exercise and good nutrition, which can lead to heart disease. Also, depression can trigger stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and adrenaline) that harm the heart.
Recognizing depression in oneself or a loved one can be challenging because many of the symptoms of heart disease are the same as those of depression including fatigue, lack of energy, trouble sleeping and difficulty performing daily life tasks. That’s why awareness of the link between depression and heart disease is so important.
Dr. Barry Jacobs, Psy.D, told the American Heart Association the best indicator of depression is if someone doesn’t have the same zest for life he or she did previously. Other signs may be sleeping and eating too little or too much.
It’s also important to note that women are more likely to suffer from depression before and after heart disease as are the elderly.
Studies show that returning to normal activities, socializing with friends and seeing other people recovering from heart disease can all help stave off depression. Cardiac rehabilitation, the support of family and friends and treatment by a mental health professional and medications can all aid in the process as well.
The bottom line: the link between depression and heart disease is significant. If someone suffers from either, they and their loved ones should be aware and watch for signs and symptoms of the other.