There is substantial research evidence showing a strong connection between depression and heart disease. The notion that depression is typical in patients with heart disease, nothing to worry about and will go away on its own is inaccurate and dangerous. Many patients already have heart disease and depression and there appears to be an interaction between the two conditions that has important implications for overall health.

Research shows that depression can lead to the development of heart disease. Studies are being conducted to determine whether depression, as a biological disorder, can cause heart disease on its own. Depression inhibits the ability to modify risk factors (smoking, stress, weight, etc.) that lead to heart disease, thereby putting patients at increased risk. It is clear that depressed patients have more risk factors for heart disease, have an increased chance of developing heart disease and have a harder time recovering from cardiac procedures.

Depression affects heart patients at a much higher rate than it does the general population. While depression frequently precedes heart disease, it can also occur and/or get worse after cardiac procedures. Among patients who have heart disease, it is estimated that depression occurs in about 20% of those who have not yet had a heart attack and in up to 65% of patients who have already had a heart attack. Heart patients with depression are at a greater risk of having another heart attack than are non-depressed heart patients. Heart attack survivors who have depression are 3 to 4 times more likely to die within six months after their heart attack than those who don’t have depression.

When depression occurs it is much harder to do normal daily activities. Energy is low, sleep can be disrupted and interest in taking care of oneself diminishes. Under these conditions, it is difficult, if not impossible, to follow through with recommendations necessary to treat heart disease such as taking medications, going to the doctor and cardiac rehab, eating properly, not smoking, etc. In fact, depressed patients are more likely to rely on “quick fix” ways to feel better like smoking, drinking and overeating, all of which can make heart disease worse.

Depression has been shown to have a very negative effect on the cardiovascular system and to decrease survival following a heart attack. Despite what is known about the frequency of depression in heart patients and the deadly consequences depression can have, estimates are that less than 10% of heart attack patients receive psychological care. This means a lot of people are needlessly living unsatisfactory lives after a heart attack and are needlessly dieing prematurely when these situations can be prevented with specialized psychological intervention.

The specialty area of cardiac psychology helps heart patients minimize and/or prevent the serious medical and psychological problems that result from depression prior to or following a cardiac event. Treating the emotional stress and strain cause by heart disease and depression optimizes a patient’s recovery. Treatment is very effective and will help improve the ability to follow the cardiologist’s recommendations thereby improving mood, physical recovery and quality of life. With these improvements, the chance of additional heart attacks and premature death decrease significantly.

Determining whether depression is occurring along with heart disease and getting it treated is critical to long-term survival. Take this quiz and if depression is identified, get treatment now — your life depends on it!

Go to Depression Risk Assessment