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Can Treating Depression Lower Your Heart Attack Risk?

Can Treating Depression Lower Your Heart Attack Risk?
Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of Americans today? If you did, you might already know about the common risk factors for heart disease. These include being overweight or obese, smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

But, did you know that your mood might also affect your risk for heart disease? That’s right! According to a new study, if you have depression, getting treated as soon as possible could lower your risk for heart problems.

What is depression?

When most people think of the condition called “depression,” they think that it means feeling sad. Sadness is part of depression, but there is much more to it than that. Other common symptoms of depression include:

  • Sleeping all the time or not being able to sleep at all
  • Feeling like you have no energy
  • Having trouble thinking, concentrating, or remembering things
  • Having no appetite or eating too much
  • Feeling like you can’t sit still
  • Not enjoying the things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having thoughts of hurting or killing yourself

When medical professionals talk about depression, they mean someone who feels sad and has some of the symptoms from this list.

A normal feeling of sadness usually comes after something bad happens to you, like a close friend falling ill. But with time, most people will be able to deal with the sad feelings and go on with their normal life. People who are depressed have a hard time getting back to normalcy.

Depression is different from just feeling sad, because it lasts for a long time—months or years. Plus, the symptoms of depression get in the way of you living your life.

The research

The study followed 235 adults over the age of 60 who had depression. They were split into 2 groups. One group was given a medicine for depression and talked to a therapist regularly. The second group was just treated by their regular healthcare provider. At the start of the study, some of the people in each group had heart disease, and some did not.

Both groups were followed for 8 years, and the researchers counted how many people had either a heart attack or a stroke. What they wanted to know was whether the people in the first group, who got the special treatment for depression, had fewer heart attacks or strokes than the group that got the “standard” treatment.

The results

For people who didn’t have heart disease at the start of the study, taking depression medicine and getting therapy cut the number of heart attacks and strokes in half, compared to people who got the standard treatment.

However, the study found that there was no difference in the number of strokes or heart attacks for people who already had heart disease when the study started, no matter which treatment they got.

What do these results mean for you?

This doesn’t mean that everyone who has depression will have a heart attack or stroke. But, it does mean that if you feel sad and have any of the symptoms listed above, you should talk to someone from your healthcare team about it. The study showed that getting treated for depression before you have heart disease can lower your risk for having a heart attack or stroke.

Experts know that the mind and body are linked. This means that feeling sad or hopeless all the time can actually change your body’s physical health. In addition, if you’re depressed, you might be more likely to make unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking, overeating, drinking too much alcohol, or not being physically active. All of these things can also raise your risk of getting heart disease.

The take home points

  • Depression is when you feel sad a lot and you have other symptoms, like feeling hopeless, not sleeping or eating, and not enjoying the fun things in life.
  • Treating depression with medicines and therapy before you get heart disease can lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • If you feel depressed or have any questions about what your read here, talk to your healthcare provider at your next office visit—he or she can help you save your life!

 

Robert Ehrman, MD (45 Articles)

Dr. Robert Ehrman, MD is a Board Certified Emergency Physician. He completed his training in Emergency Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT and Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL. He always reminds his patients that the more they take care for their health each day, the less likely they are to visit him again in the ER!

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