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Depression and heart disease

As debilitating illnesses go, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and depression are certainly high on the list. CVD kills as many Americans each year as the next four causes of death combined. And depression is a leading cause of disability, affecting about 8 percent of American adults each year.

Worse, these two illnesses appear to be frequent companions. Researchers say that people with heart disease are more likely to develop depression than healthy people. It seems the opposite happens, too: According to multiple studies, depression triggers the frequent release of stress hormones, which in turn speed the heart rate and increase blood pressure, insulin and cholesterol levels—CVD risk factors.

Depression can even interfere with medications designed to treat conditions such as hypertension and stress. And, in the event of a heart attack, existing depression may worsen the chance for survival and even help set the stage for a second attack.

Spotting the signs

Doctors say spotting these early signs of depression is imperative—not only to a loved one’s emotional health but also to stemming possible heart problems. Be on the lookout for such symptoms after a cardiac episode, too. It’s important not to accept them as a normal part of the recovery process:

  • a persistent sadness or empty feeling
  • a lack of interest in activities that used to bring happiness
  • a decreased energy or persistent fatigue
  • disturbed sleep patterns, like insomnia or oversleeping
  • a loss or an increase in weight
  • problems remembering or concentrating
  • indecisiveness
  • feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or guilt
  • irritability or frequent sobbing
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • chronic aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment

Contact your doctor if you’ve noticed several of these symptoms. Effective therapy for both heart disease and depression is available and, more important, medical care can prevent a heart from breaking needlessly.

Spotting the signs