Depression is a plague of the mind and emotions that affects not only the brain and behavior, but your various vital organs as well. Major medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, have associated with depression. Dealing with any health problem at all can be difficult, especially in countries where healthcare costs are through the roof, but having comorbid (combined) conditions makes it even more difficult and important to seek out appropriate treatment.
Let’s start with depression. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is an extremely weighty mental illness that reduces quality of life and heavily interferes with activities of daily living. Approximately 26.2 percent of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of depression. That’s about 1 in 4 people.
Signs and Symptoms of Major Depression
Most of us know these signs and symptoms because of how common depression is and how many medications and treatments are advertised everywhere we look. However, experiencing any of the below, it’s helpful to be reminded that there are still people who know and acknowledge that you’re not alone. This should make it a little bit easier to reach out to a friend or loved one or contact your health professional to discuss treatment options.
These symptoms include:
- Feeling hopelessness, helpless, guilty, or worthless
- Constant feelings of emptiness, sadness, or anxiety
- No longer enjoying activities you used to take pleasure in, including sex
- Restlessness and irritability
- Fatigue or malaise (general tiredness and not feeling well)
- Inability to concentrate or make any decisions
- Overeating (emotional eating) or loss of appetite
- Problems with memory
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) or attempts
Angina (pain in the chest) occurs when your heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. This pain sometimes radiates into the left arm and shoulder, neck, and jaw. A myocardial infarct (heart attack) can occur when blood supply is completely cut off. The part of the heart that didn’t receive the blood will start to infarct (die) if the blood flow isn’t restored instantly. Treating this condition quickly (such as taking an aspirin at the first onset of pain and increasing blood flow to the heart) can limit harm and potentially stop a heart attack from occurring.
Clearly, the heart is a complex and very important organ. We know that. But what is the link between depression and heart disease? Can it be treated? Studies have found that people with heart disease are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who are otherwise healthy. Oddly enough, scientists really aren’t sure why this actually happens. However, they do know that the depression symptoms decrease physical and mental health, making the existing cardiac problems worse or even increasing the risk for a diagnosis of heart disease. Those depression symptoms like excessive fatigue and feelings of hopelessness can be overwhelmingly heavy and make a patient not want to take their medication or see any healthcare providers for treatment. Depression can be a violent and cyclic disease since the symptoms often lead to one not wanting to seek any help.
Again, if you are suffering from any of the depressive symptoms above, seek help immediately. If you also have a pre-existing condition of heart disease, it will be even more important to seek help if you have the above symptoms. Treating the depression will make it easier to control the heart condition and possibly save your life. Treatments for depression are highly effective.
The most common forms of treatments are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a sort of talk therapy that helps you recognize and understand your own behavior. It will teach you how to change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be playing a part in your depression.
- SSRI and SNRI medications. These are generally tolerated well and safe to use; however, close followup with your doctor will be required. All psychiatric medications should be combined with continuing psychotherapy, because the dose and side effects will need to be monitored and adjusted in order to achieve best results.
In general, it’ll be much easier to follow the plan for treating your heart disease if your depression is under control and well managed. It will be easier to make the lifestyle changes that are necessary to manage heart disease, including:
- Healthier eating and regular exercise
- Reducing or stopping alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Staying on top of heart medications or having surgery if it’s indicated.
Lifestyle changes will even help with your depression. Regular exercise and more a more nutritious diet has been shown to uplift mood and release a good amount of endorphins in the brain.