Depression affects an estimated 18 percent of American women. It affects nearly twice as many women as men, and research suggests this may be due to certain biological, hormonal and social factors that are unique to women.
Women who are depressed are more than two times more likely to experience sudden cardiac death than women who are not. While the exact relationship between depression and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not clear, researchers do know that even mild forms of depression or its symptoms increase the risk of heart disease in women by two to three times.
One possibility is that the symptoms of depression make it challenging for women to take care of themselves and make healthy choices. 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.
Women may try to deal with their depression through comforting but harmful behaviors like 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.
Unfortunately, cardiovascular health care providers often have a low awareness of depression and other mental health issues among their patients. The many physical symptoms that accompany heart disease may overshadow psychological signs. That’s why it is important for women to choose 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.
Scripps Women’s Heart 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.