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Depression and Heart Disease : Mind and mood affect the heart

February 1, 2006

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, or diabetes.

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.

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