Many Emotions Can Damage the Heart
Most people know that anger is bad for your heart's health, but loneliness and depression affect your heart, too.
Depression and the Heart continued...
Burg points out that in people who have already suffered a heart attack that requires surgery to unclog blocked arteries, depression is also associated with poor outcomes, such as an earlier death or subsequent heart attack.
Social isolation and low levels of social support are similarly associated with increased risk for heart disease complications, he says.
Most cardiologists agree these results are important, says Burg. But while cardiologists know what to do about cholesterol and blood pressure, they often don't know what to do about depression and stress, or even how to get patients to reveal how they feel. "It's not like going to a patient and saying, 'You have high cholesterol, and here's the pill,'" says Burg.
Talking About Your Emotions
Not surprisingly, people have an easier time discussing their blood sugar and cholesterol than speaking about their psychological state. "People don't like being depressed but, in our society, there is a certain stigma about things like depression," Burg says. "When patients are not as forthcoming about these issues, it makes it that much harder to identify and treat."
"A person who has suffered a heart attack is likely to say things like, 'Of course I'm depressed, I just had a heart attack,'" Burg says. "But very often, when we take a closer look, what we find is the symptoms of depression predate the heart attack.
"The depression after a heart attack, which we would call an adjustment problem or adjustment disorder, actually dissipates within a matter of weeks. If the symptoms persist, we're really talking about a depression independent of the heart disease." These emotions, when prolonged, "are worth paying attention to, because of the potential effect they're having on the cardiovascular system."
It's Tougher on Women
In cases of depression, women outnumber men 2 to 1, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, chief of women's cardiac care, Lenox Hill Hospital, who runs a practice for heart disease in women. Goldberg points out that many women, adopting what's called the "tend and befriend" attitude, internalize their anger and disappointment instead of expressing these emotions, and become nicer and more nurturing. "You can be that quiet person that holds everything in and still have the increase in stress reactions."