Depression: A Risk Factor for Heart Disease

By on January 15, 2017
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Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have recently published their results from a study that looked at risk factors for developing heart disease.  They found depression is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease;  almost as significant as obesity and high cholesterol.

When we think about heart health and the risk factors for  developing cardiovascular disease, what usually comes to mind? Well-known risk factors include obesity, a high-fat diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and high cholesterol.   Now we can add depression to that list.

The Study

Researchers followed approximately 3500 males between the ages of 45 and 74 over a span of 10 years.  They witnessed the  development of heart disease in a portion of these volunteers.  Study results showed that up to 15% of the cardiac- related deaths were associated with the presence of depression.  

The study’s data strongly suggests that, while smoking and high blood pressure present a slightly higher risk for developing heart disease than other top factors; cholesterol, obesity, and depression weren’t far behind.

This critical information has important implications for medical practice, including the way healthcare practitioners assess, educate, and treat their patients.  Up until now, assessing a patient’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease would not have likely included a screening for depression.  

In spite of the medical community’s new insights related to heart disease risk factors, you are always your best advocate, so if you know or suspect you are experiencing depression, definitely inform your healthcare practitioner and express your concern about its possible effect on your heart health.  

In fact, regardless of whether you are someone at high risk for cardiac conditions, let your provider know if you are experiencing depressed mood and/or related symptoms.  There are many effective treatment options available today.  A brief summary of common signs and symptoms of depression is written below.

Depression:  Signs and Symptoms


Depression can present itself in many ways.  Some standard signs include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness that last more than two weeks.  Oftentimes the condition is marked by change in appetite and sleep disturbance.  Some will experience insomnia, while others will find they are sleeping excessively.  Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy and isolating from family and friends can also be clues.

The findings from this study provides the healthcare community with solid information to be used in practice, but it also raises many questions.  One that comes to mind that seems particularly relevant is,  Is there a relation between depression and the other risk factors such as smoking and obesity? ; and, Could treating an underlying depression curb unhealthy behaviors such as low physical activity level, overeating, and smoking?

Once again we are confronted by the reality of the mind-body connection.  While many ancient civilizations “knew” of this connection; today, using the scientific method, we are verifying there is a legitimate connection between mind and body.


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