During American Heart Month, we've been highlighting aspects of cardiovascular
(heart) disease to help you understand your own heart health and what
you can do to be as kind to that precious organ as you can possibly be.
And, while you may tend to associate
heart disease with more physical actions, such as a smoking, poor diet and a lack of
exercise, heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems can
also be very much affected by your thoughts, attitudes and emotions. They
can not only accelerate the onset of heart disease, but also mess with
your ability to take those positive steps to improve your heart health.
A combination of stress and heavy depression can significantly increase
heart patient's risk of death or heart attack, according to research in
Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.
A study by the Columbia University Medical Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular
Health in New York also found high stress and deep depression among heart
patients may up the risk of death or heart attack by 48 percent. Experts
believe behavioral interventions may be needed to help heart patients
manage both stress and depression. The American Psychological Association
(APA) says there are some things you can do for yourself in this regard:
A healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward reducing the
risk of heart disease or managing a diagnosed condition, even if you face a
higher risk due to uncontrollable factors such as age, sex or family history.
But making changes in your daily life is not always easy and takes personal
discipline. You may sense a loss of control over your life in eating differently,
making time for exercise and taking regular medication.
How you handle stress influences how your cardiovascular system responds.
Studies reveal that if stress makes you angry or irritable, you're
more likely to have heart disease. In fact, the way you respond to stress
may be as great a risk factor for heart problems as smoking, high blood
pressure and high cholesterol.
Avoid the downward spiral
Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and despair that can isolate
you from the rest of the world. In its severest form, clinical depression
not only increases the risk of heart disease but can worsen an existing
Research shows that while only about 20 percent of us experience an episode
of depression in our lifetimes, the figure climbs to 50 percent among
people with heart disease. Men and women diagnosed with clinical depression
are more than twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease, while
heart patients are three times as likely to be more depressed at any given
time than the population as a whole.
Bottom line - If left untreated, clinical depression can put you at substantially
greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke and complicates the
aftermath of a
stroke, or invasive procedure such as open-heart surgery.
What's more, your heart health can also affect your mental and emotional
well being later in life. There is a connection between vascular health
and dementia. Next to Alzheimer's, vascular dementia is considered
the second leading cause of problems with reasoning, judgment, memory
and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood
flow to your brain.
While there are no treatments to prevent or cure dementia at present, a
Boston University School of Medicine study published in the
New England Journal of Medicine suggests that rates for dementia have been falling in recent decades -
and that increased emphasis on heart heat in that time period may be the
reason. But the study also suggests that cautious optimism should not
- Identify the sources of stress in your life and look for ways to reduce
and manage them.
- Avoid trying to fix every problem at once. Focus instead on changing one
- Don't ignore the symptoms of depression if lasting more than two weeks.
If you feel overwhelmed by the challenges of managing the behaviors associated
with heart disease, you might want to consult a qualified psychologist
that will work with your doctor to devise a suitable treatment program.