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Depression's Worrying Link to Life-Threatening Heart Disease

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Depression's Worrying Link to Life-Threatening Heart Disease

Depression and heart disease are two widespread diseases affecting millions of men and women in America. In some cases, the two diseases occur independently of one another—not all people with depression have heart disease and not all people who have heart disease are depressed. But studies show that depression and heart disease often occur simultaneously in the same person.

What is the connection? It is unclear which is the “chicken” and which is the “egg,” so to speak, but it is thought that there may be a two-way relationship between depression and heart disease.

Dr. Nina Radford, Cardiologist and Director of Clinical Research at Cooper Clinic, explains. The relationship between depression and heart disease can be observed from a few different angles.

First, we must remember that testing for and the diagnosis of any form of cardiovascular disease can be a stressful, scary experience anyone, regardless of age or gender. It isn’t far-fetched to see how someone who has been diagnosed with heart disease may experience depressive symptoms following that diagnosis.

On the other hand, depression has been positively linked to a number of risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. Someone who is depressed may be less likely to care for his or her own health, thus resulting in the development of heart disease, even at an early age due to unhealthy lifestyle factors.

According to the American Heart Association, there is evidence to suggest “depression occurs frequently in patients with established cardiovascular disease and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.” Someone who is depressed and who has had a heart attack or been through bypass surgery may be more likely to have a negative outcome from surgery or treatment. For that reason, the American Heart Association recommends that patients who have heart disease also be screened and treated for depression, explains Dr. Radford.

In some cases, there may be biological markers that connect heart disease and depression in one person.  For example, some medical experts “suggest that people who are depressed may have higher markers of inflammation in the body, which we know is linked to heart disease,” said Dr. Radford.

Although it has not been proven that depression causes heart disease, or that heart disease causes depression, it is important to treat depression in order to reduce heart disease risk factors. Even if there is no proof treatment for depression, the treatment can reduce risk of heart disease, because we do have evidence that lifestyle changes can lead to improvement in depressive symptoms. We also know depression is linked to worse cardiovascular risk factors including smoking, obesity, overeating and physical inactivity. And these risk factors lead to heart disease.

“There is a link between exercise and improvement in depression. There is a positive impact from lifestyle change on a patient’s recovery from depression,” said Dr. Radford. “Heart disease may be related to lifestyle; it may be caused by physiological differences; or it may be multifactorial,” said Dr. Radford. “The hope is that by treating depression in patients with cardiovascular risk factors, those lifestyle factors will improve, thus reducing the patient’s risk of heart disease.”

At Cooper Clinic, all patients who come on for a preventive health exam will be screened for depression as part of the patient’s overall wellness check.

For more information about services at Cooper Clinic, call 866.906.2667 (COOP) or click here.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.