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Depression and heart disease: a complex relationship

Depression and heart disease have a complex relationship

Depression and heart disease are two of the most prevalent and debilitating health conditions worldwide. Both are major public health concerns and have been linked in numerous studies.

Depression, a mental health disorder, is associated with low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, fatigue, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances.

Heart disease, on the other hand, is a broad term that refers to a range of conditions affecting the heart, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, and valves disease.

The two conditions have a complex relationship, and researchers are still trying to understand the nature of this connection.

Prevalence of depression in heart disease patients and prevalence of heart disease in patients with depression

The prevalence of depression in patients with heart disease is relatively high. Studies have found that up to 20 to 30 per cent of patients with coronary artery disease and heart failure experience depression, while up to 50 per cent of patients with an acute coronary syndrome may experience depressive symptoms.

Similarly, the prevalence of heart disease in patients with depression is also relatively high.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 studies found that patients with depression had a 64 per cent increased risk of developing a cardiac disease compared to those without depression.

The co-occurrence of depression and heart disease can have significant implications for the patient's prognosis and quality of life.

Patients with both depression and heart disease tend to have worse outcomes, including an increased risk of morbidity and mortality, longer hospital stays, and higher healthcare costs.

The high prevalence of depression in patients with heart disease highlights the importance of routine screening and appropriate treatment for depression in this population.

Similarly, the high prevalence of heart disease in patients with depression highlights the importance of assessing cardiovascular risk factors and implementing appropriate prevention strategies in patients with depression.

How is depression a risk factor for heart disease?

There is a growing evidence to suggest that depression is a risk factor for heart disease. A meta-analysis of 23 studies, involving over 1 million participants, found that depression increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 27 per cent.

A similar meta-analysis of 20 studies reported that depression was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death. Other studies have found that depression is associated with an increased risk of arrhythmias, heart failure, and stroke.

The exact mechanisms underlying this connection are not fully understood however:

1. It is believed that depression may lead to changes in the body's stress response system, including the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones can increase inflammation and promote the formation of plaques in the arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque in the arteries) and increase the risk of vessels blockage.

2. Depression has also been linked to changes in the autonomic nervous system, which controls blood pressure and heart rate, and such a change can cause an abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia, and increase the risk of sudden cardiac death.

3. Moreover, depression can affect the course of heart disease and may worsen the prognosis of patients with heart disease, due to poor adherence to optimal medical care and lack of motivation towards positive lifestyle measures.

Is heart disease a risk factor for depression?

Recent research has suggested that heart disease may be a risk factor for depression. This risk is particularly high among patients with coronary disease, heart failure and a stroke.

1. Patients with heart disease may experience a range of symptoms that can contribute to and overlap with depression including fatigue, pain, sleep disturbances, and a sense of loss of control, both physical and emotional, due to their cardiac condition.

2. In addition, the stress of coping with heart disease as a chronic illness and the associated lifestyle changes, such as dietary restrictions, polypharmacy (many medications), physical limitations, and increased medical appointments, can all contribute to depression in patients with heart disease.

3. Moreover, the social isolation and loneliness that can result from these lifestyle changes, especially in younger men, may also contribute to depression in cardiac patients.

It is important to note that depression in patients with heart disease may be underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Treatment of depression in heart disease

Treating depression in patients with heart disease is essential for improving the patient's quality of life and reducing the risk of further cardiac events. A range of treatments is available for depression, including psychotherapy, antidepressant medications, and lifestyle interventions.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, has been shown to be effective in treating depression in patients with heart disease.

CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to depression and improving coping strategies. Psychotherapy can be delivered in a group or individual setting and can be tailored to meet the patient's specific needs.

Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are commonly prescribed for depression in patients with heart disease.

These medications work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for regulating mood. However, healthcare providers must monitor patients closely for side effects.

Lifestyle interventions, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and smoking cessation can also be effective in treating depression in patients with heart disease.

Exercise has been shown to improve moderate form of depression and can be as effective as a small dose of SSRI!

Joseph Yammine is a consultant cardiologist at the Bermuda Hospitals Board. The information herein is not intended as medical advice nor as a substitute for professional medical opinion. Always seek the advice of your physician

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Published March 28, 2023 at 7:45 am (Updated March 28, 2023 at 6:56 am)

Depression and heart disease: a complex relationship

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