No, depression won't literally break your heart (but have a heart check anyway)

September 25, 2017 by Jennifer Welsh And Ellie Paige, The Conversation
Depression doesn’t lead to heart disease, as some people suggest, but it’s a sign that you might be at risk of it. Credit: Paola Chaaya/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Some people say depression leads to a broken heart. It's a catchy expression, but is it really true?

There is certainly a link between depression and heart disease, the most common cause of a attack. People with are 30% more likely to develop than those without it.

It seems logical then that depression could, quite literally, break your heart.

However, our new research suggests rather than cause heart , depression in people aged 45 or older can signal the early signs of the disease and the need for a heart check.

How are depression and heart disease linked?

To say one thing causes another, we first need to understand how the two things are linked, including which comes first.

Does depression lead to an event like a heart attack? Or are there early signs of heart disease – which make people much more likely to have a heart event – that lead to depression?

We know depression has physical effects on the body, some of which may harm the heart. Depression can increase inflammation, heart rate and blood pressure, all of which are involved in developing heart disease.

However, it's also true people with early heart disease can feel physically lousy long before a life threatening heart event.

Half of people who survive a heart attack say they had leading up to it. The most common early signs were fatigue, shortness of breath and pains in the chest, arm, neck or back. If experienced for long periods of time these symptoms can leave a person feeling depressed.

Depression can also be linked to heart disease through behaviours and other chronic diseases. Smoking, not exercising enough, heavy drinking and poor diet, and chronic conditions like diabetes, are all more common in people with depression. These are all also factors involved in developing heart disease.

So before we can claim depression breaks your heart, we must account for the fact some behaviours and are more common in this group, and some people may have depression because of the early signs of heart disease.

This is exactly what our study did.

What our study found

We used data from more than 150,000 people 45 years or older who had not already had a heart attack or stroke.

At the start of the study people reported their level of psychological distress, a commonly used measure of symptoms of depression and anxiety. We then followed them over five years to see how many developed heart disease.

People with the highest levels of psychological distress were 70% more likely to go on to have a heart event (like a ) within the next few years than people with the lowest levels of psychological distress.

After taking smoking, exercise, alcohol, weight and diabetes into account, this dropped to just 40%.

When we excluded people with early signs of heart disease, there was little evidence increased the risk of developing heart disease at all.

This suggests it's more helpful to view depression as something that signals a higher risk of heart disease, rather than as a direct cause of the disease.

This is in line with findings from other large-scale studies and robust trials. These have found treating depression does not reduce the risk of developing heart disease. If depression caused heart disease, we would have expected treating depression to have reduced the chance of developing heart disease.

If you have depression, get a heart check

The finding that depression is unlikely to cause heart disease suggests depression in people aged 45 or older might be an important sign of other things going on.

If you experience depression, talk to your doctor about it and how treatments can help.

If you're 45 or older, while you're with your doctor, ask for a heart check. This is the first step to assessing your future risk of heart disease. It also helps your doctor find the best way to lower your risk.

Explore further: Exercise reduces heart disease risk in depressed patients

Related Stories

Exercise reduces heart disease risk in depressed patients

January 11, 2016
Symptoms of mild to minimal depression were associated with early indicators of heart disease in a research letter published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, but the study found regular exercise ...

Death rate for depressed heart patients double than for non-depressed heart patients

July 28, 2017
People who are diagnosed with coronary artery disease and then develop depression face a risk of death that's twice as high as heart patients without depression, according to a major new study by researchers at Intermountain ...

Link between heart disease risk factors and depression is biological, not behavioral

May 11, 2017
Biology, rather than personal behavior, may be responsible for the link between depression and risk factors for heart disease, according to a new study from Rice University.

Research suggests a new model of chronic disease

February 23, 2017
Genes play a key role in determining whether someone experiences multiple chronic diseases, according to new research by King's.

For older adults, serious depression symptoms increase risk for stroke and heart disease

February 1, 2016
Depression and its symptoms increase as people age, and have been linked to heart disease and stroke in both middle-aged and older adults. But whether depression and its symptoms are risk factors for these two dangerous conditions ...

Depression doubles risk of death after heart attack, angina

March 8, 2017
Depression is the strongest predictor of death in the first decade following a diagnosis of coronary heart disease, according to a study scheduled for presentation at the American College of Cardiology's 66th Annual Scientific ...

Recommended for you

Noisy workplace may wreak havoc on your heart

March 22, 2018
(HealthDay)—Loud noise at work doesn't just threaten your hearing, it might also boost your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a new U.S. government report suggests.

Smartwatch effective in detecting atrial fibrillation

March 22, 2018
Irregular heart impulses that lead to stroke can be detected with great accuracy using a smartwatch with a specially designed application, a finding that could eventually lead to new ways to screen patients for earlier treatment, ...

AI is quicker, more effective than humans in analyzing heart scans

March 22, 2018
A type of artificial intelligence known as advanced machine learning can classify essential views from heart ultrasound tests faster, more accurately and with less data than board-certified echocardiographers, according to ...

Majority of U.S. adults have poor heart health: study

March 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—America's heart health went from bad to worse between 1988 and 2014, a new report warns.

Drinking alcohol makes your heart race

March 18, 2018
The more alcohol you drink, the higher your heart rate gets, according to research presented today at EHRA 2018 Congress, organized by the European Society of Cardiology.

Study of nearly 300,000 people challenges the 'obesity paradox'

March 15, 2018
The idea that it might be possible to be overweight or obese but not at increased risk of heart disease, otherwise known as the "obesity paradox", has been challenged by a study of nearly 300,000 people published in in the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.