Depression is common in heart patients. Most studies show 2 out of 3 patients will experience depression. Does depression cause heart disease or does heart disease cause depression? Probably both. We all have ups and downs, however when one finds them overwhelming and debilitating it is time to get help. According to the National Institute for Mental Health the following are the symptoms of depression:
Signs and symptoms include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
One of the best things a person who is suffering from depression can do is to get daily exercise. Yet it is one of the hardest things to do when depressed. I would encourage patients to at a minimum schedule themselves 10 minutes per day of exercise. I know it is a very short duration, but it is a starting point. We build from there. If you are a significant other of someone you suspect is depressed, don’t nag them to exercise, rather help them to engage in it. Offer to go for a walk, or go to the gym together.
For many suffering from depression winter can be especially difficult. The holidays may trigger episodes, a change in healthy eating habits to the holiday party foods, a change in exercise habits due to weather changes, getting out and socializing less due to weather, loss of loved ones, and seasonal effective disorder can all be a catalyst for symptoms to worsen. If you note this contact your healthcare practitioner, consider counseling, increasing exercise, getting sunlight every day, and/or medications. It is important because if depression isn’t treated often heart disease worsens.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy
Heart disease patients who have anxiety have twice the risk of dying from any cause compared to those without anxiety, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Patients with both anxiety and depression have triple the risk of dying, researchers said.
Many studies have linked depression to an increased risk of death in heart disease patients. However, anxiety hasn’t received as much attention. Studies show that depression is about three times more common in heart attack patients. The American Heart Association recommends that heart patients be screened for depression and treated if necessary.
Depressed heart disease patients often also have anxiety, suggesting it may underlie the risk previously attributed solely to depression. It’s now time for anxiety to be considered as important as depression, and for it to be examined carefully.”
In the study, 934 heart disease patients, average age 62, completed a questionnaire measuring their level of anxiety and depression immediately before or after a cardiac catheterization procedure at Duke University Medical Center. Patients had anxiety if they scored 8 or higher on a scale composed of seven common characteristics of anxiety, with each item rated from 0 to 3 (range of possible scores: 0-21). Depression was measured using a similar scale composed of seven symptoms of depression.
Researchers, after accounting for age, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and other factors that affect death risk, found that 90 of the 934 patients experienced anxiety only, 65 experienced depression only and 99 suffered anxiety and depression. Among 133 patients who died during three years of follow-up, 55 had anxiety, depression or both. The majority of deaths (93 of 133) were heart-related.
Researchers measured anxiety and depression during cardiac catheterization because levels better reflected how patients normally handle stressful situations. Anxiety and depression each influence risk of death in unique ways. Anxiety, for example, increases activity of the sympathetic (adrenaline-producing) nervous system that controls blood pressure.
People who worry a lot are more likely to have difficulty sleeping and to develop high blood pressure. The link between depression and mortality is more related to behavioral risk factors. Depression results in lack of adherence to medical advice and treatments, along with behaviors like smoking and being sedentary.
Future studies should test strategies to manage anxiety alone and with depression in heart disease patients.
Anxiety reducing medications combined with stress management could improve outcome for patients with just anxiety, whereas patients with anxiety and depression may need a stronger intervention involving more frequent outpatient monitoring and incentives to improve adherence.
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