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Depression and Heart Disease

By CHI Health February 08, 2012 Posted in: Wellness

With Valentine's Day approaching, CHI Health is talking a lot about heart-related issues. Not so much the romantic side of the heart, but issues surrounding heart disease. Bergan Mercy Medical Center is hosting a Heart and Vascular Health Fair on Saturday, February 18th, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. regarding health-related issues. I'm looking forward to it because I'll be there!

You might be wondering how mental-health and heart disease are related. I know my last blog was on marriage and relationships - the other, more romantic  side of heart-related issues - and I had intended on continuing that discussion this week. However, we're going to take a little bit of a turn – still discussing relationships – but this time the relationship between heart disease and depression.

Since I am not a doctor, I can't even begin to discuss the workings of the heart. We'll leave that up to Dr. Van De Graaff to give us the lowdown on that. However, as a mental-health provider, I certainly recognize that a person's heart and brain live in the same body – so if there's a difficulty with one there might be a difficulty with the other. It's a holistic approach – taking body, mind, and spirit into account to ensure our patients get connected with all the services they might need. Any illness - even having a cold or flu – can impact how we respond to day-to-day stressors. I think we can all relate to having a stuffed up nose and the body aches that colds and flu can produce. Most of us aren't quite ourselves during those times. The truth is -  life takes a lot of brain and body chemistry to accomplish daily tasks. When illness occurs, the body and brain can become overtaxed. This can result in having a reduced ability to get daily tasks done, or cope with stressors – like a flat tire, a bounced check, a cancelled meeting. Things that we usually handle fairly well can take on a whole new heaviness, feeling more like a huge burden rather than a simple annoyance. So how does this relate to heart disease?

With heart disease, there seems to be plenty of research to indicate that heart health and mental health  have some very clear connections. For most of us, there are two main questions:

  1. Does heart disease cause depression?
  2. Does depression cause heart disease?

The National Institute for Mental Health reports that heart disease is "closely linked to depression" but goes on to say that researchers aren't exactly sure why there is a link. Evidently there is no one thing that indicates one causes the other, yet there seems to be a relationship. My guess is, they are continuing to research this matter.

From a mental-health point of view, I know that, whether an illness is short-lived, like a cold, or something more long-term, like heart disease, people can experience a dip in their emotional well being. For those with more long-term illnesses, that dip in emotional well being can turn into depression. So we're all clear on what depression  can look like, I've included a list of some of the symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or "empty" much or most of the time.
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty, worthless or helpless.
  • Feeling that there's no fun in life any more – a loss of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Having little or no energy to get normal routines at home or work accomplished.
  • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much.
  • Changes in weight and appetite.
  • Thinking about death, suicide or suicide attempts.

These are symptoms of depression that can occur with or without heart disease. For those with a long-term medical issue, like heart disease, it's really important to share these symptoms of depression with your health-care providers. If it is depression, it can and should be addressed right away. Unfortunately, some people who have these symptoms forget to tell their doctor or don't think their symptoms are important enough to report. They may begin to self medicate with alcohol, smoking cigarettes, some might even stop taking medicines that are prescribed. In short, people can stop taking care of themselves – and that can lead to further problems. And, by the way, it's important to realize that this can occur for both men and women.

Whether depression is linked to heart disease or not, there is some good news. There's help – talk with your health-care provider. Tell him or her the symptoms of depression you are experiencing. If you don't have a health-care provider, we'll help you get one. The Alegent Health website you're on right now is an excellent resource to find a provider. It's really important to begin that conversation with a health-care provider so you can get the help you need, and see what treatment options – medications and/or therapies – may be right for you.

Here are a few other websites I'd like to share with you if you'd like further information:

As always, take care!

CHI Health
CHI Health

These blogs were written by various members of the CHI Health care teams.

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