Depression Can Break Your Heart

Heart disease remains the number one killer of people all over the United States. Therefore, it must be taken seriously for the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Though not as prevalent, depression is another disease that needs to be addressed as well, especially since recent research has shown a clear link between depression and the killer known as heart disease.

The face that depression can lead to heart disease is actually not that surprising. Those who suffer from depression do not usually take very good care of themselves and pay little attention to the food they eat or the exercise they are getting. It can be easy to slip into a sedentary lifestyle and a diet of low-cost, high-fat foods that are easy to purchase or prepare. The combination of that kind of lifestyle and diet is a recipe for heart disease.

Yet depression can also cause heart disease in those depressed persons who do maintain a healthy lifestyle despite their sadness. Depression puts a great deal of stress on the body, which can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. Cortisol and adrenaline levels in depressed persons can be chronically high, causing the heart to work harder and faster which increases the risk of a heart attack. Normally, such hormones cause the “flight or fight” response that puts the body on edge, but then everything returns to normal. Depressed people are on edge all the time on account of these hormones and thus at great risk for heart disease. Different psychological distresses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can also increase the level of these hormones on a chronic basis, leading to heart disease; therefore, it is important to seek professional help for dealing with depression and other psychological issues.

Depression has been shown to lead to heart disease but it also works the other way. Researchers have also seen cases where heart disease can cause depression. For example, it is common for patients to suffer sadness and depression after a major surgery, such as a heart bypass. When the heart does not function properly, the health of the entire body is impaired, and chronic poor health can be discouraging even to the happiest people.

Seeing the link between these two devastating diseases, health professionals have recently started issuing guidelines for preventing them. It is common now for cardiovascular patients to be screened for depression so that it is caught early and individuals do not suffer in a cycle of heart disease causing depression, which causes more heart disease, and so on. Depressed persons are also encouraged to seek help and there is much work being done to lower the stigma of depression because if it is caught and treated early, little to no heart disease will develop.

The best way to avoid both heart disease and depression is to maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise three to four times a week. Studies show that exercise produces endorphins in the brain that can keep people feeling happy and make them less susceptible to depression. Exercise also strengthens the heart and helps prevent cardiovascular disease. Diets low in saturated fats and high in the omega-3 fatty acids are also a great way to prevent both diseases, for these fatty acids can help improve movement and prevent arterial blockages from forming.

These sites are helpful for more information on the link between heart disease and depression:

• Depression and Heart Disease — a good article on the link between depression and heart disease from the Cleveland Clinic

• Depression and Heart Disease Links — summarizes psychiatry’s current assessment of the depression-heart disease link

• Don't Ignore the Relationship — 2003 article on heart disease and depression from the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine

• Facts on Depression and Heart Disease — brief, informative page on depression and heart disease from the Mayo Clinic

• Second Opinion: Heart Disease & Depression — PBS site on the link between heart disease and depression

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