Stress and depression prove to be a deadly double whammy for those with heart disease by dramatically increasing the risk of heart attack and death.
In a recent study, researchers followed 44,000 patients age 45 and older who had coronary heart disease. Between 2003 and 2007, participants were examined in their homes and answered questions regarding stress and depression symptoms. They were asked how often they felt depressed or lonely, cried, or felt overwhelmed and as if life was out of their control.
It was determined that 6 percent of participants had both stress and depression. This group was found to have a 48 percent greater risk of heart attack or death. There was no increased risk in the groups that had either depression or stress alone. Lead researcher Carmela Alcantara of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, tells Reuters Health this outcome was surprising.
“We were surprised that high stress, and high depression, alone did not increase the risk of another heart attack or death, in analyses that accounted for important medical, behavioral, and demographic factors.”
The study suggests that stress and depression management may need to be considered when treating heart disease, but Alcantara says more studies are needed.
“More research is needed to understand why psychosocial factors like these are so often tied to heart health in particular.”
Studies have also linked stress and depression to the development of heart disease, while this one focused on those who already had heart disease. Other emotional factors have been associated with increased heart attack risk, as well.
Another recent study, published in the European Heart Journal, found that angry outbursts can trigger a heart attack during the two hours after the episode. In this case, those who experienced intense anger had five times greater risk of having a heart attack. Again, more research is needed, as Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, associate professor of medicine at Harvard, explains to the New York Times.
“Are there specific behavioral interventions that would be effective? Medicines? There have been proposals for both, but we need more and better research.”
Researchers say the risk of heart attack after an angry fit is small but could be lethal for those with other risk factors. Likewise, depression and stress should be taken seriously, especially in those with heart disease. Both studies demonstrate that emotions play a significant role in heart health, and the connection needs more research to help improve the treatment and prevention of heart disease.
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