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An Actual Broken Heart: Depression Puts You More at Risk for a Heart Attack

Have you ever suffered from a “broken heart” so severely that you thought you might actually die? It may sound like a line out of a teenage movie or book, but perhaps it’s not so far off the reality chart.

Or, have you heard the many tales of a man or woman of varying age dying soon after their loved ones passed away?  Maybe your own grandparent or elder relative was victim of just this phenomenon – holding on for a few months, but eventually succumbing to death.

Dying of a Broken Heart

It sounds like a made-up urban legend used to portray the power of love and affection; but a recent study suggests that perhaps severe depression, from a broken heart or otherwise, can lead to heart disease.
More specifically, individuals who suffer from mood disorders can be twice as likely to have a heart attack, compared to people who were not depressed, or had only very minor depression that soon subsided. 

Details of the Study

The study, which was performed by researchers at Concordia University, believes that this poorly understood phenomenon occurs because the depressed individuals can have a much slower recovery time period after exercise.  Compared to people who are not depressed, the depressed individuals who were examined healed slower as well. 

The results suggest that perhaps a malfunctioning biological stress system is occurring in the human body, which is serving as an inhibitor for the depression.  Led by Simon Bacon, a professor in the Concordia University Department of Exercise Science and a researcher at the Montreal Heart Institute, as well as Jennifer Gordon, a PhD candidate from McGill university, the research paper was recently published in the online science journal Psychophysiology

Almost 900 people participated in the tests and experiments, and most of these individuals were on average 60 years old.  The trials were a joint effort between Concordia University, the Montreal Heart Institute, McGill University, the Hôpital Sacré-Coeur de Montréal and the University of Calgary.  Of the 886 test subjects, only 5 percent were diagnosed with severe depression or a major mood disorder.  As a controlling experiment, everyone was asked to take a stress test and have their heart rate and blood pressure recorded immediately after, as well as the time it took for the vital signs to return to normal levels.
When to Take Action

The results confirmed the scientists' beliefs; the individuals suffering from severe depression or major mood disorders showed a significantly longer recovery period than those who did not have depression or mood disorders.  It is not clear, however, if this is because depressed people have poorer health behaviors which could lead to heart problems, or if the heart problems are a direct result from a strained biological stress system. 

Because of this, the researchers recommend that individuals with major depression seek a health care professional to test their cardiovascular health, and prevent the risks associated with heart disease such as heart attacks and strokes. 

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