A recent piece titled “Can Depression Cause Heart Attacks?” has taken a really good look at the research linking depression and heart attacks. The author notes that science has speculated a link since the 1980s but is now starting to say YES, people who are depressed are more likely to suffer from heart disease. He highlights studies suggesting that depression is a major player in the development of heart disease, and then describes what the science is saying about who is getting hit with this dangerous double diagnosis. He then goes into the biology of what the heart needs to function (and from a scientific standpoint it is not love, sorry to all romantics!) and presents new research suggesting that inflammation is at the root of both depression and heart disease. Finally the author outlines some scary statistics on depression following heart attack and while you think you’d feel lucky to be alive, the contrary is actually true—50% of people go on to develop depression post heart attack.
The relationship between heart attacks and depression seems pretty clear, but what is less clear (and why we think cardiologists are slow to warm up to this idea) is which comes first. Science says that depressed people are more likely to have a heart attack, and it also says that people who have heart attacks are more likely to be depressed. Throwing the inflammation piece into this puzzle, scientists again are not clear if depression causes inflammation that leads to heart disease or if heart disease causes inflammation that leads to depression. If this all sounds confusing you’re not alone, trust us! We think it’s a huge step that science is finally making the connection between mental and physical health and that long-term studies will eventually find the answer. For now let’s just understand that having depression could mean getting heart problems, and let’s take control—it is much more serious than just feeling sad.
Orsha Magyar, B.Sc, M.Sc., RHN