At first glance, depression and heart disease would seem to be two completely separate afflictions. While each can have massive impacts on a person’s life, on the surface they don’t have a lot of visible connectivity. And, yet, the truth is depression can increase the risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy people. Those living with depression are more likely to have diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and use tobacco products – all of which greatly increase their risk for cardiac disease.
“Even with controlling for these factors, depression by itself makes one more likely to have heart problems such as heart attack, heart failure and electrical abnormalities,” said Blount Memorial cardiologist Dr. Peter Scott. “It also appears that those of us who cope with our stress best have less likelihood of having medical issues, in general, and heart issues, specifically. Depression also can increase the risk of future cardiac incidents for people who have had heart attacks or who have coronary disease,” he added.
According to Scott, up to 35 percent of people who have had a heart attack and 75 percent of people who have had bypass surgery experience depression. “It has been shown that these patients do worse than those who are not depressed,” Scott said. “The depressed patients have more heart attacks and higher rates of heart failure and death. The good news is that intervention with certain antidepressants appears to help, and the risk of significant side effects is low,” he explained.
“While the biological reasons for the depression-heart disease connection aren’t completely clear, the most likely theory is that depression and anxiety alter the body’s normal chemical balance,” Scott continued. “Studies have shown that, under times of stress, our good cholesterol goes down, our bad cholesterol goes up and our blood pressure goes up. The stress hormones – including epinephrine, cortisol and blood sugar – in our bodies rise, increasing our risk of heart problems, such as a heart attack or heart failure.”
Scott says prescription medications, counseling and other therapies can help treat depression effectively. “If you are feeling depressed, I encourage you to talk to your health care provider,” he said. “Depression makes life very difficult for people on a daily basis, and has physical health consequences that can make a heart attack more likely. Treating depression, however, can reduce your risk for heart disease and may also save your life,” he added.
Dr. Scott sees patients at Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Cardiology, located on 1-north at Blount Memorial Hospital. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 865-238-6161.