HEALTHY LIVING

Depression Plus Stress May Raise Heart Health Risks

03/11/2015 11:14 am ET | Updated Mar 11, 2015
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By Don Rauf

Depression and stress can damage heart health. Put both conditions together, and it may cause a double-whammy that amplifies heart risks.

A new study has found that the depression and stress together may create a "psychosocial perfect storm." The combination of the two factors may raise the risk of heart attack and death.

An estimated 1 in 10 Americans ages 18 and older is depressed. That figure can be as high as 1 in 3 for heart attack patients, according to the American Heart Association. Stress can also add to troubles that tax the heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overeating, physical inactivity and smoking.

Carmela Alcántara, Ph.D., a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health in New York City, led this research.

"The increase in risk accompanying high stress and high depressive symptoms was robust and consistent across demographics, medical history, medication use and health risk behaviors," Alcántara said in a press release.

Alcántara and colleagues studied data on nearly 4,500 patients with heart disease. These patients were 45 years old or older. At the start of this study, about 6 percent said they had both high stress and depressive symptoms.

Symptoms were assessed by in-home exams and self-administered surveys. Patients noted how often they were depressed, lonely, or sad or had crying spells. They shared information about their ability to control important things in their lives, feelings of being overwhelmed and confidence in their ability to handle personal problems.

During an average six-year follow-up, these study patients had more than 1,300 deaths or heart attacks. Those in the high stress-high, depressive symptoms group faced a 48 percent higher short-term risk for death or heart attack than those in the low stress, low-depressive symptoms group.

This study found that the risk was significant only for those with high stress and high depressive symptoms at the same time -- not for those having either stress or depression alone.

"Behavioral treatments that help adults with heart disease better manage both stress and depression may be warranted as a strategy to improve medical prognosis, though further research is needed," Alcántara told dailyRx News.

Exercise, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking, a healthy diet, and keeping a healthy weight are some ways that people may relieve the symptoms of stress and depression. These practices may also lower heart disease risk.

This study was published March 10 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institutes of Health--Department of Health and Human Services and National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute funded this research. Two study authors received salary support from Amgen, Inc., for research studies. One served as a consultant for DiaDexus.

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