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Women, Depression and Heart Disease During COVID-19

How depression contributes to heart disease risk in women

An older woman clasps her hands on her forehead, suffering from heart disease and depression during COVID.

How depression contributes to heart disease risk in women

Women who are at risk for heart disease should pay attention to their mental health as well. Women are twice as likely as men to develop depression. Depression is a risk factor for heart disease.

While the exact relationship between depression and heart disease is still being studied, enough is known to raise awareness about the dangers of depression on heart health. Research shows that even mild forms of depression or its symptoms increase the chance of heart disease in women by two to three times.

In the age of COVID-19, heart disease can also put one at risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. Heart patients are urged to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them.

Women and heart disease

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death among women for years. Women are also at higher risk than men for poorer outcomes after cardiac events.

Knowing the symptoms of heart disease can help especially in deciding when to seek medical care. Knowing the symptoms of depression is also helpful even though they may get less attention at first. Often the many physical symptoms of heart disease may overshadow mental signs of depression.

“That is why it’s important be under the care of a physician who understands the role of depression in women’s heart disease and considers their mental health and emotional wellness along with their heart health,” says Poulina Uddin, MD, a cardiologist at Scripps Clinic.

Women and depression

Women are at greater risk for depression than men for a variety of reasons, including certain biological, hormonal and social factors that are unique to women. Research shows that people with depression are more likely to have poor heart health. A study by the American Heart Association found depression could be a barrier to living a heart healthy lifestyle.

“Unfortunately, some of the symptoms of depression make it challenging for women to take care of themselves and make healthy choices,” Dr. Uddin says.

“Often, women with depression sleep too much or not enough, feel fatigued, have little interest in doing things and lack energy – none of which are conducive to sticking with a healthy diet or cardiovascular exercise program,” she says.

Women may try to deal with their depression through comforting but harmful behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or overeating. In fact, women with high levels of depression are more likely to be obese or smoke.

In addition, depression and the feelings that often accompany it, such as anxiety, anger, stress and loneliness, can trigger physiological changes in the body that increase the risk to the heart.

“When a person is feeling stressed, the body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks,” Dr. Uddin says.

Depression after heart disease

People who are diagnosed with heart disease are at risk to develop depression. Studies show that up to one third of heart attack patients develop some degree of depression, according to the American Heart Association.

In 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended depression screening for the general population, with an emphasis on people with heart disease.

“Thanks to the benefits of research and expanding clinical experience, we continue to learn more about the relationship between depression and heart disease, including the role depression plays before and after a heart attack or other cardiac problems, particularly in women,” says Dr. Uddin, a member of the heart team Scripps Women’s Heart Center.

COVID and heart disease

People with certain underlying conditions, including heart disease, should take extra caution to avoid exposure to the virus while it remains a public health threat. New vaccines are becoming increasingly available to protect against COVID.

COVID is a respiratory disease that primarily affects the lungs. But it can also affect the heart in severe ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What Is the Scripps Women’s Heart Center?

The Scripps Women’s Center provides heart care for women, by women. Our female cardiologists are experts in cardiology and integrative medicine and specialize in female heart disease. We’re dedicated to empowering women to take care of their hearts through education, lifestyle and, when needed, expert medical care.