In 2019, over 50 million American adults suffered from a mental illness. That’s about one in five Americans. Depression and anxiety are common mental illnesses among Americans that can affect the mind and the body. One of the ways it affects the body is through the heart.
Anxiety, depression, and heart disease are known to occur together. It should come as no surprise that over 12% of Americans suffer from heart disease. A healthy heart can help with a healthy mind.
The Connection Between Anxiety, Depression, and Heart Disease
The body is an ecosystem. If one part of it is off-balance, then the entire body reacts negatively. The same can be said about the link between anxiety, depression, and heart disease. Again, bad physical or mental health puts an unwanted strain on the body’s systems. Being a little stressed or sad from time to time isn’t a big deal.
However, constant stress and sadness can make heart health worse. Mental illness can’t cause heart disease and vice versa. But the appearance of either respectively could signal one another. For example, mental illness can be an underlying symptom of cardiovascular disease or disorder.
Depression and Heart Disease: How Can Depression Cause Heart Disease?
When it comes to depression and heart disease, they are interrelated. It would be wrong to say that they cause one another, but it’s almost the case. Both commonly co-occur together. Harvard’s Medical School blog wrote about a study where they surveyed over 221,000 people over the age of 45.
The participants had no prior history of cardiovascular diseases or disorders. Then, the researchers followed up over four years later to ask them about their experiences with depression and heart disease. The participants with high levels of depression were more likely to suffer from a heart attack or a stroke. Harvard points out that this might happen at birth. It can affect a fetus’ heart and brain regions if a woman is stressed during pregnancy.
How Can Anxiety Cause Heart Disease?
The same study mentioned above also measured whether or not the participants had a cardiovascular disorder and high levels of anxiety. The participants with high levels of anxiety were more likely to suffer from a stroke or a heart attack. Constant stress can’t cause these things, but it increases the risk.
What Disease or Disorder Affects the Heart?
There are many different types of diseases and disorders that affect the heart. These kinds of health conditions are known as cardiovascular diseases or disorders. Some directly affect the heart and some indirectly make heart health worse. The great variety of heart diseases and disorders can be grouped into four categories.
The four categories are:
- Heart failure
- Structural heart disease
- Coronary artery and vascular disease
- Heart rhythm disorders
Each poses its problems and can be deadly. Mental health and heart disease are deeply connected. An issue with physical health can turn into a mental illness and the other way around. Unsound mental health can manifest as any of these four types of heart diseases and disorders.
When people suffer from heart failure it’s because the heart has become weak or damaged. It’s a serious disorder that can lead to heart attacks as well as high blood pressure. While there isn’t a cure, early identification, lifestyle, and medication can help.
Structural Heart Disease
The heart is made up of walls, muscles, and valves. There are four chambers of the heart. Valves are the exit point in each of these chambers. Also, there are blood vessels near the heart.
When any of these heart parts are abnormal, it’s structural heart disease. A health condition like this may be present at birth or happen over time because of too much wear and tear. It’s a serious condition that often requires extensive medical care and surgery.
Coronary Artery and Vascular Disease
This type of heart disease happens because of hardened arteries. According to the National Cancer Institute, arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. This kind of disease happens when heart arteries become more narrow or get blocked off. It’s very common and leads to heart attacks and chest pain (angina).
Signs of a heart attack are:
- Chest discomfort
- Bodily aches and pains (especially in arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back)
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling faint
- Nausea and vomiting
Vascular disease is in the same category. It’s another kind of heart disease. The difference is that it involves other problems with blood vessels, other than arteries. Issues with these kinds of blood vessels can obstruct regular blood flow which leads to overall heart problems.
Heart Rhythm Disorders
Arrhythmias, or heart rhythm disorders, is when the heart beats in a way it’s not supposed to. This can mean it’s beating too quickly, too slowly, or off-beat. This kind of heart disorder can disrupt blood flow and can potentially lead to death.
Factors That Increase the Chance of a Heart Disease or Disorder
Around 47% of Americans have a risk factor that can lead to heart disease or a disorder. That’s almost half of Americans! Some risk factors are preventable, while others aren’t.
Factors that may increase the chance of heart diseases and disorders are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
What Is Depression?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is a mood disorder that can negatively affect how people act, feel, and handle simple activities. When a person has a low mood that disrupts their way of thinking or life for two weeks or more, it might be depression.
There are five major types of depression listed on NIMH’s website:
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia): A depressed mood that lasts at least two years
- Postpartum Depression: Depression that happens after giving birth
- Psychotic Depression: Depressed mood accompanied by psychotic beliefs (ie: paranoia and hallucinations)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): When a person becomes depressed with seasonal cycles (normally happens during months with less sunlight)
- Bipolar Disorder: Not depression specifically but people with bipolar disorder go through periods of depression
Depression is a serious mood disorder that can qualify as a disability in some instances. The amount of stress it puts on the body can lead to other health disorders, like heart disease. It’s important to seek help if a low mood continues for more than two weeks.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
- Inability to perform simple daily tasks, like eating and showering
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be exciting
- Social isolation
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
- Poor school and work performance
- Feeling sad, hopeless, and worthless
What Is Anxiety?
An anxiety disorder is a wide term to describe persistent worry and fear without cause. It’s an extremely common mental illness that plagues many Americans. Over 18% of Americans suffer from a type of anxiety disorder, which is around one in five people.
Types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Constant stress and worry without any direct cause for six months or more
- Panic Disorder: Panic attacks that involve intense amounts of dread, sweating, heart palpitations, shaking, and other unpleasant physical sensations
- Phobia-Related Disorder: A fear of a specific place, object, or situation
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety that happens from being in social settings (can be all social settings for some and certain ones for others, like public speaking)
Anxiety is highly treatable but can lead to deeper health complications if left untreated. Heart arrhythmias are associated with anxiety. Both should be treated at the same time for it to be effective.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- An intense feeling of constant dread
- Feeling worried or stressed for no reason
- Paranoid thoughts
- An uncomfortable physical sensation that stems from feeling worried
- Feeling unable to perform daily activities because of stress or worry
- Wanting to escape
- Issues sleeping and eating
3 Ways To Help Treat Anxiety, Depression, and Heart Disease
Smoking increases the chance of heart diseases and disorders. It also can make a person feel more stressed out and depressed. While they might feel relaxed while smoking a cigarette, they’ll feel irritable and anxious in between. Cutting out this bad habit can help promote a healthy heart and brain.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
High cholesterol is another factor that can increase the chance of cardiovascular diseases and disorders. Eating a diet that has low cholesterol can reduce the chance of heart health conditions, and mental illness in turn. Try to fill half of the plate with fruits and veggies instead of fatty meats. Plus, a healthy diet has a powerful impact on obesity (another risk factor for bad heart health) and mental illness overall.
Dealing with a heart condition can take an emotional and mental toll. Talking about it with a medical professional might help a condition from getting worse. A licensed therapist or counselor can help patients get through the worst of heart disease and depression as well as anxiety.
We Know Heart Health Impacts Mental Health
At Montare Behavior Health, we’re well aware of the link between heart disease and depression, among other mental illnesses. Treating physical and mental disorders simultaneously is a core belief at our facility. If you or a loved one is struggling with both, contact us now.