The link between depression and heart disease has become an issue of much concern as evidence mounts suggesting that there is a definite interaction between the two. Studies have shown that depressed people are more likely to suffer from heart disease and that approximately half of all heart disease patients will suffer from major depression at some point in their lives.
If you suffer from depression and/or heart disease, or know someone who does, it might interest you to know that:
- 18% of all heart disease patients are suffering from depression right now. Not all of them will know it.
- Depression may predispose you to developing heart disease.
- Depressed people suffer from heart attacks at a rate 4 times higher than the general population.
- Heart disease patients suffering from depression are 4 times more likely to die within six months of a heart attack than the general population.
- Anti-depressant medication may adversely affect your heart.
It is not yet clear which comes first – the chicken or the egg. Some studies suggest that depression predisposes one to developing heart disease and others suggest that heart disease can lead to depression. Suffering from a serious health condition can understandably cause one to feel down and even lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. This is a perfectly natural response. A diagnosis of depression, however, requires severe symptoms to be present. The diagnosis is not given for an understandable reaction to finding out that one is suffering from a health condition. This being noted though, studies have found that 18% of all heart disease patients suffer from clinical depression and that almost half of heart disease patients will suffer from a depressive episode at some point in their lives.
Heart attack patients in particular are at risk of developing depression. Dr Ian Westmore, a practicing psychiatrist, stresses that one of the most striking reasons for depression developing in a patient who has suffered a heart attack, is that they have had a ‘near death’ experience and they can no longer do what they used to. He states that “it is essential that these patients be assisted in working through these losses if a complete recovery is to be made”. For many of these patients it might be their first encounter with a hospital or intensive care unit which can be very traumatic. He stresses that ‘debriefing’ at the time is important to avoid problems developing later on. “Adequate psychological support” says Dr Westmore “could greatly enhance the prognosis of these patients”.
There is much concern that many heart disease patients suffering from depression may go undiagnosed. Many may not seek help, and never get to put a name to their symptoms, and others may pass through the system without their depression ever being detected. If you have heart disease, you may be one of the 18% currently suffering from major depression. If you know someone with heart disease who appears to be suffering from depression, remember that your intervention might be crucial. One of the most unfortunate symptoms of depression is an inertia that seems to prevent many sufferers from seeking help. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group can be contacted on (011)783-1474/6 or (011)884-1797, Monday to Friday (8am to 7pm) and Saturdays (8am to 5pm). Counsellors are available to offer support and information.
Other research suggests that people suffering from depression are more vulnerable to developing heart disease. Evidently, people who suffer from depression have hearts that beat faster. The heart rhythms of depressed people do not regulate well to changes in activities and their tendency towards both high blood pressure and blood clots is much greater. These factors combined result in more stress on the blood vessels and the heart. In addition, depressed people, due to the nature of their symptoms, tend to ignore certain important stimuli, such as the need to eat, sleep, and have sex. Depressed people also smoke on average more than the general population. These things can put them at risk of developing heart disease.
Whether the depression or the heart disease comes first is less important an issue than the acknowledgement that the two do go hand-in-hand for many people. The consequences of this are important to note. Evidence suggests that heart disease patients are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or require heart bypass surgery if they suffer from depression. In addition, heart attack patients are 4 times more likely to die within six months of their heart attacks if they suffer from depression.
Certain anti-depressant medication has been shown to adversely affect the heart. Side-effects are at times unavoidable for those taking anti-depressants, but for someone prone to or suffering from heart disease, this particular side-effect should be avoided. Other types of anti-depressants have proven to combat certain adverse health conditions which could lead to heart disease. Consult with your GP or your psychiatrist on which anti-depressant suits you best, and steer clear of side-effects which impact on your heart if you are prone to or suffering from heart disease.
If you are suffering from depression the important thing to remember is that there is help out there. If you have heart disease and suspect that you might be depressed you should consult with a GP, psychiatrist or psychologist, or phone the Depression and Anxiety Support Group. Don’t ignore the signs!