Heart disease can be depressing—literally. About 50% of hospitalized
heart patients have some depressive symptoms, and up to 20% develop
major depression. And depression affects heart health: Patients who are
depressed at the time of hospitalization for heart conditions are two
to five times more likely than average to die or to suffer further
cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or severe chest
pain in the following year. The February issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter
notes that recurrence of cardiovascular events is more closely linked
to depression than to high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure,
Mind and mood can affect the cardiovascular
system directly by creating a state of emergency readiness, in which
stress hormone levels rise, blood vessels constrict, and heartbeat
speeds up. If a person is seriously depressed or anxious, the emergency
response becomes constant, damaging the blood vessels and making the
heart less sensitive to signals telling it to slow down or speed up as
the body's demands change, reports the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
suggests that the type of antidepressants called selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may benefit depressed heart patients and
possibly reduce their risk for future heart problems. Cardiac
rehabilitation programs that sustain patients' morale and urge them to
take better care of themselves may also help reduce the damage
depression does to the heart.
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