Depression affects more than just your mood. In this Everyday Health article, Mindpath Health’s Rashmi Parmar, MD, explains how depression can affect the heart and lead to bigger health problems.

If you have depression, you probably know how this condition hurts your heart emotionally, but did you know that depression can take a physical toll on your ticker, too?

The relationship between depression and heart health is a two-way street. Depression increases your risk of heart issues by as much as 64%, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. And about one in five people with heart disease experience major depression, the American Heart Association reports.

1. Depression raises your risk of cardiovascular disease

“Depression is a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, not just because of its psychological impact but also from the physiological standpoint,” says Rashmi Parmar, MD, an adult and child psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.

Cardiovascular disease, a group of disorders affecting the heart and blood vessels, is the number-one killer in the United States — and often a silent one at that, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Heart disease, which is a type of cardiovascular disease, is often precipitated by a condition called atherosclerosis, according to the American Heart Association.

Atherosclerosis affects blood vessels, called the arteries, which are responsible for transporting oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Over time, as you age, your arteries gradually stiffen, and plaque accumulates along the walls of your arteries.

Arterial stiffness and plaque buildup make it too difficult for blood to flow normally through your arteries. This can raise your risk of a heart attack or stroke, both of which are potentially fatal.

2. Depression reduces the likelihood you’ll make heart-healthy lifestyle choices

Depression can make it difficult to even get out of bed, let alone exercise and cook nutritious meals for yourself every day.

People with depression are prone to unhealthy eating habits, not getting enough exercise, weight gain, and smoking, says Arvind Nirula, MD, an interventional cardiologist.

3. Depression may prevent you from seeking help for heart symptoms

Say you’ve already been diagnosed with depression, and you begin experiencing heart-related symptoms like a rapid heartbeat or chest pain. These symptoms, along with the thought of facing a serious health diagnosis, can be scary for anyone. For people with depression, it may be overwhelming to even make an appointment with a doctor to discuss these symptoms.

Nonetheless, it’s still very important to see your doctor if you experience any new symptoms. Depression and heart issues can even sometimes share symptoms, and a symptom you think is attributable to your depression may have another underlying cause.

4. Depression can follow a new heart diagnosis and make it worse

If you’ve recently had a heart attack, heart surgery, or been diagnosed with a heart condition like coronary artery disease (the buildup of plaque in the heart’s main arteries), it’s not uncommon to develop depression afterward, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If left untreated, depression can make an existing heart condition worse and ramp up the risk of a heart attack, the Cleveland Clinic states. Untreated depression is especially risky for older individuals with coronary artery disease.

How do I know if I have depression?

If you haven’t been formally diagnosed with depression but suspect you have it, there are several signs to look for. You may have depression if you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Down or depressed mood
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Restlessness or inability to sit still
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Slowed speech or movement
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Unintended weight gain or loss

How to protect both your heart and mind

Getting help for depression is incredibly important to preserve your heart health (especially if you already have heart problems). Standard treatment for depression involves visits to a mental health professional for talk therapy, and in some cases medication.

People with chronic heart issues could benefit from seeing a mental health professional who works specifically with people with chronic illnesses. Your cardiologist may be able to help you find a therapist with knowledge about heart conditions.

If your doctor prescribes medication for you, make a plan to discuss with your doctor or therapist how to stick to it in the long run (and be sure to tell them about any other medications or supplements you’re taking to avoid potential drug interactions). Approximately 29 to 40% of American adults with depression have a hard time adhering to their treatment regimen.

Self-care is another strategy you can use to cope with depression. Many activities can count toward self-care, including:

  • Being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Eating nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Engaging in positive self-talk
  • Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day
  • Journaling
  • Meditating
  • Taking a shower daily

Read the full Everyday Health article with sources. 

Share this Article