Are Depression & Exhaustion as Risky as Obesity?

Man Anxious and Depressed

When considering the causes of disability in high-income countries, depression and cardiovascular disease are at the top of the list.1 The connection between cardiovascular disease and depression is well established,1 but our understanding about the bidirectional nature of that relationship, namely how mental health impacts cardiovascular risk, is in the early stages.

Depression and Cardiovascular Health

To sum up what is known about the association of cardiovascular disease with depression, one group of researchers from Harvard Medical School stated,

Depression in cardiac disease is common, persistent, underrecognized, and deadly.2

Patients with coronary artery disease, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and implanted cardiac defibrillators are all at greatly increased risk of depression compared to healthy individuals.2

Yet the evidence suggests that depression precedes cardiovascular events for many patients. To round up some of that research:

  • In one study, major depression preceded acute coronary syndrome by more than 30 days in 53% of patients.3
  • In another study, nearly 50% of patients had thoughts that life was not worth living two weeks before hospitalization for a cardiac condition.4
  • A meta-analysis concluded that whether pre- or post-cardiac event, depression is prevalent among coronary heart disease patients and is “hazardous.”5

Whether it’s for their cardiac or mental health, screening and treating patients for depression can improve quality of life. Screening for and treating depression may also enhance the therapeutic partnership and improve adherence to recommendations, along with long-term quality of life.

One decade-long study on all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality examined more than 3,400 middle-aged men.6 The results indicated that the presence of depressed mood and exhaustion is a middle-ranking risk factor for all-cause and CVD mortality, comparable to hypercholesterolemia and obesity.6 This study highlights the need to widen the lens for cardiometabolic assessment.

Depression and anxiety can significantly impact the course of illness and efficacy of treatment for other conditions. For instance, analyses have revealed that patients with comorbid depression after myocardial infarction have a threefold increased risk of death.1

We know that mental health issues are extremely common across the population. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one-third of all visits to a primary care practitioner involved a mental health component.7 Patients with coronary artery disease or heart failure are roughly three times more likely than the general public to have comorbid depression.8 For patients at risk of cardiovascular and cardiometabolic conditions, depression and exhaustion are vital risk factors to consider for public health in general.9

Special Population: Aging Adults

Statistically, older adults are more likely than those under 60 years of age to have depression and seek treatment from primary care providers.10-11 Depression may be especially common in long-term care settings, with a prevalence of 29%11 compared with 19% in the general population.12 Furthermore, the likelihood of depression increases with each comorbid condition.10 Despite this frequency, at least one meta-analysis concluded that primary care providers are less successful at diagnosing depression in older populations.13

Researchers report that perceptions of time pressure or of more difficult patients both tend to reduce the likelihood of physicians screening for depression in this population.11 In a primary care setting, both physician and patient may be more likely to focus on physical complaints than mental health. However, given the importance of depression as a mediating factor for cardiovascular health, such screening remains extremely important.

For aging patients who are more likely to have multiple symptoms and/or diagnoses, pre-visit screening tools may aid assessment.

For those with cardiometabolic and cardiovascular diagnoses, lifestyle prescriptions are common. Depression can greatly interfere with the ability to conduct normal life, much less make changes and adapt to new recommendations from a primary care provider. There is room to improve in detection and treatment of comorbid depression. This can help to achieve improved health outcomes as well as increase patients’ adaptability and resilience to start and adhere to recommended lifestyle changes.

Learn More About Cardiometabolic Function

  1. Hare DL, Toukhsati SR, Johansson P, Jaarsma T. Depression and cardiovascular disease: a clinical review. Eur Heart J. 2014;35(21):1365-1372. doi:1093/eurheartj/eht462
  2. Huffman JC, Celano CM, Beach SR, Motiwala SR, Januzzi JL. Depression and cardiac disease: epidemiology, mechanisms, and diagnosis. Cardiovasc Psychiatry Neurol. 2013;2013:695925. doi:1155/2013/695925
  3. Glassman AH, Bigger JT, Gaffney M, Shapiro PA, Swenson JR. Onset of major depression associated with acute coronary syndromes: relationship of onset, major depressive disorder history, and episode severity to sertraline benefit. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63(3):283-288. doi:1001/archpsyc.63.3.283
  4. Huffman JC, Mastromauro CA, Sowden GL, Wittmann C, Rodman R, Januzzi JL. A collaborative care depression management program for cardiac inpatients: depression characteristics and in-hospital outcomes. 2011;52(1):26-33. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2010.11.021
  5. Leung YW, Flora DB, Gravely S, Irvine J, Carney RM, Grace SL. The impact of premorbid and postmorbid depression onset on mortality and cardiac morbidity among patients with coronary heart disease: meta-analysis. Psychosom Med. 2012;74(8):786-801. doi:1097/PSY.0b013e31826ddbed
  6. Ladwig K-H, Baumert J, Marten-Mittag B, et al. Room for depressed and exhausted mood as a risk predictor for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality beyond the contribution of the classical somatic risk factors in men. 2017;257:224-231. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2016.12.003
  7. Cherry D, McCaig L, Albert M. QuickStats: percentage of mental illness-related physician office visits by persons aged ?18 years, by physician specialty and region — United States, 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(38):1094.
  8. Cohen BE, Edmondson D, Kronish IM. State of the art review: depression, stress, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Hypertens. 2015;28(11):1295-1302. doi:1093/ajh/hpv047
  9. Catalina-Romero C, Calvo-Bonacho E. Depression and cardiovascular disease: time for clinical trials. 2017;257:250-252. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2017.01.004
  10. Hall CA, Reynolds-Iii CF. Late-life depression in the primary care setting: challenges, collaborative care, and prevention. Maturitas. 2014;79(2):147-152. doi:1016/j.maturitas.2014.05.026
  11. Seitz D, Purandare N, Conn D. Prevalence of psychiatric disorders among older adults in long-term care homes: a systematic review. Int Psychogeriatr. 2010;22(7):1025-1039. doi:1017/S1041610210000608
  12. Van Damme A, Declercq T, Lemey L, Tandt H, Petrovic M. Late-life depression: issues for the general practitioner. Int J Gen Med. 2018;11:113-120. doi:2147/IJGM.S154876
  13. Mitchell AJ, Rao S, Vaze A. Do primary care physicians have particular difficulty identifying late-life depression? A meta-analysis stratified by age. Psychother Psychosom. 2010;79(5):285-294. doi:1159/000318295

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