High blood pressure.
These are the risk factors for heart disease that your doctor typically talks to you about. Yet, there is a risk factor that most doctors never discuss that can have as much impact as the ones I just listed — Depression.
Your mood plays a significant role in whether or not you get heart disease. Study after study shows that the biological changes involved with depression– increased cortisol, elevated adrenaline, and decreased serotonin – causes changes in how well your heart functions. It directly impacts how well your heart pumps as well as how much plaque develops in your arteries. Intense emotions and acute anxiety can literally change the shape of the heart. It’s a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and often referred to as “broken heart syndrome.”
Why is no one talking about this?
Even though we have made progress in recent years around the mind-body connection, we often don’t implement it in clinical practice. We create silos with physical health managed by physicians trained in internal and family medicine and mental health largely managed by psychiatry. We need to be integrating and acknowledging there is no physical health without mental health, and there is no mental health without physical health. It doesn’t make sense to only address risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and weight – and then have mood as some time of afterthought.
If you follow some of my writing, you know I’m a big fan of risk calculators. Perhaps it’s time to update those that help calculate risk of cardiovascular disease and add depression/anxiety in the calculation of the risk score. That might force folks to be more explicit and proactive about managing mood as part of a primary prevention program.
Like many other aspects of heart disease, we wait until someone has a heart attack to adequately address it. We talk about the need to reduce stress after patients experience chest pain – we should be talking about mood before they get to that point!
We have made amazing advances in the treatment of heart disease but sometime still dies of a heart attack every thirty- five seconds. Given the mental health challenges that many people have experienced during the past two years, I expect deaths from heart disease will increase unless we take proactive steps in reducing risk. Addressing depression and other mental health conditions must be an important part of plan.