Heart and Brain Health More Closely Linked Than You Think

Are you ruled by your heart or by your brain?

As it turns out, the two are much more closely linked than you might think.

In fact, mental health experts report that heart disease and depression often go hand in hand. So much so, that people with heart disease often have accompanying depression, and individuals with depression are more likely to suffer from heart disease.

Experts estimate people who suffer from depression are nearly 30% more likely to develop heart disease than those who don't. Conversely, one in five people with heart disease will develop depression, says Moises Gaviria, M.D., distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, medical director of the Ingalls Behavioral Health Intensive Outpatient Program in Flossmoor, and one of Chicago Magazine's Top Doctors.

What's more, congestive heart failure (CHF) patients often suffer from cognitive difficulties as a result of their CHF.

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, heart disease will be the number one cause of death and disability worldwide, and depression will be the second. Fortunately the extent to which these two chronic conditions are caused by each other, why they happen to occur in tandem and how to treat them both simultaneously are areas experts are still exploring.

"Depression as a risk factor for heart disease is leading researchers to explore whether we should be treating the mind and the body together," Dr. Gaviria explains.

At Cleveland Clinic, for example, patients with cardiovascular disease are assessed for depression, and patients with clinical depression are evaluated for cardiovascular disease as part of an integrated treatment program.

Whichever one comes first, depression and heart disease make a deadly combination.

"Repeat cardiovascular events are more closely associated with depression than they are with smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol," Dr. Gaviria said.

A recent Duke University study found that depressed heart-failure patients were 20% more likely to be hospitalized for their heart condition than patients who were not depressed.

"Depression itself makes people sicker in ways that we're still trying to understand," he added.

For instance, in the first six months after a heart attack, a depressed person's chances of dying are four times higher than a non-depressed person's, even if they have the same heart damage.

Whether you or someone you know has battled depression for years or only developed symptoms after heart disease, taking depression seriously may be the best thing you can do to improve your odds of surviving heart disease.

Added to that, experts estimate that nearly half of CHF patients have been found to suffer cognitive deficits directly related to their disease, including the ability to think, reason, plan and follow medical instructions – including taking their prescription medication.

Memory problems and other cognitive deficits may be an important factor to consider in planning medical care for patients with CHF, Dr. Gaviria added.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or cognitive problems related to a chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease, the Ingalls Intensive Outpatient Program in Flossmoor can help. For more information, call 708.915.8600.

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