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Depression changes how you think and feel, but is it linked to heart disease? In some cases, yes.

People with depression may be more likely to develop heart disease, and people with heart disease or who have had a heart attack or other cardiac event may be more likely to develop clinical depression. Find out more about how these conditions are linked, and what you can do to get help.

RELATED: The Link Between Sleep and Heart Health

What Is Depression?

You’ve probably had the blues at one time or another and felt sad, angry, or lonely. In most cases, these feelings pass in a week or two. But if they don’t — it may be a sign of major depression.

Major depression is a mood disorder that affects how you think, feel, and handle everyday activities. It is a very common and treatable medical condition, not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.

Symptoms of major depression usually last two weeks or longer and can include:

    • Feeling sad, angry, hopeless, guilty, worthless, restless, or irritable
    • Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
    • Sleep changes, including sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep
    • Changes in appetite, like overeating or not feeling hungry
    • Having less energy or feeling tired easily
    • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
    • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
    • Ongoing physical symptoms that aren’t helped with treatment, like headaches, digestive problems, or pain

To learn more about the link between depression and heart health, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute website or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

Are Depression and Heart Disease Linked?

Depression and heart disease may be linked by the body’s stress response, though more research is needed to say for sure. Depression can trigger feelings of stress, which raises your blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, this can damage your blood vessels and make your heart less able to adjust to your body’s needs.

And, according to the American Heart Association, some studies show that up to 33 percent of people who have a heart attack or other cardiac event will develop depression. While it’s normal to feel sad, angry, or anxious after a heart attack or heart surgery, talk to your doctor if these feelings last longer than a few weeks.

Getting Help for Depression

Depression affects more than 15 million adults in the United States each year, so if you think you or a loved one has depression, start with a trip to your primary care doctor for a screening. Be honest about how you’re feeling both physically and emotionally, and let your doctor know how long you’ve been feeling this way.

If you’re diagnosed with depression, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan that may include medicines, therapy, or both. It’s very important to follow your treatment plan, even if you start feeling better. Never stop taking medicine without talking to your doctor first.

Finding Healthy Ways to Cope with Depression

Your doctor can also suggest healthy coping habits that can help you manage your symptoms and stress level, including:

  • Figuring out your sources of stress and making a plan for how to deal with them.
  • Getting regular physical activity.
  • Choosing a healthy diet, rather than foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar.
  • Trying meditation, yoga, and other relaxation practices.
  • Avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and overeating as a means to cope.