The Overlap Of Mental Health And Heart Health

February 5, 2024
written by:Claire Brandon, M.D.

Heart health and brain health are so connected that it’s honestly surprising that the medical system doesn’t consider the two more interrelated as a standard of care. Incredibly frequently I see patients who have either had a heart attack, a cardiac surgery, or have been diagnosed with a chronic heart condition and who are surprised that they feel depressed or uncontrolled anxiety. It doesn’t happen to everyone but when it happens, it can be very distressing especially if you’ve never struggled with mental health issues in the past. 

Cardiac and mental health are bidirectional and closely impact each other. Much of this has to do with the inflammatory theory of the body but for a quick take from the mental health perspective we’ll break it down a bit more.

Stress and Anxiety:

  • Impact on Cardiac Health: Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to the development or exacerbation of cardiovascular conditions. Prolonged stress may lead to elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and inflammation, which can negatively impact the heart.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Individuals with cardiac conditions may experience heightened stress and anxiety related to their health. The fear of a cardiac event, lifestyle changes, and managing a chronic condition can contribute to mental health challenges.

Depression:

  • Impact on Cardiac Health: Depression has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It may contribute to inflammation, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and reduced adherence to medical recommendations.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Individuals with cardiac conditions may be more susceptible to depression, particularly if they experience limitations in physical activities, changes in body image, or challenges in daily functioning.

Behavioral Factors:

  • Impact on Cardiac Health: Unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, such as poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, are risk factors for both mental health issues and cardiovascular disease.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Individuals with mental health challenges may be more prone to engaging in unhealthy behaviors, further increasing their risk of cardiovascular issues. They also might struggle to be compliant with treatment leading to more negative health outcomes.

Social Isolation:

  • Impact on Cardiac Health: Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Lack of social support can contribute to stress and negatively affect heart health.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Individuals with cardiac conditions may experience social isolation due to health-related limitations. The lack of social connections can contribute to feelings of loneliness and impact mental well-being. We saw this pretty significantly during the COVID 19 pandemic and it continues today with people fearing catching COVID given their vulnerable cardiac state.

Medication Effects:

  • Impact on Cardiac Health: Some medications used to treat cardiovascular conditions may have side effects that impact mental health, including mood changes or cognitive effects.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Medications for mental health conditions may, in some cases, have cardiovascular side effects. It’s essential to carefully manage the overall medication regimen to address both cardiac and mental health needs. These tend to be the older types of antidepressant medications, but not always. It’s important to be working with a psychiatrist that can direct your care and treatment to assess all the risk factors that might apply to you.

What can make an impact on heart and mental health?

The good news is that given the overlap of these conditions, we can use many complementary treatments that impact the mind-body connection. Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques can positively impact both mental health and cardiac health. These practices may help reduce stress, improve mood, and promote overall well-being.

Given the bidirectional relationship between cardiac health and mental health, a holistic approach to care is important. This may involve collaboration between healthcare providers, including cardiologists and psychiatrists, to address both physical and mental aspects of well-being. Lifestyle modifications, stress management, and a support system are key components in promoting overall health for individuals with both cardiac and mental health considerations.

Claire Brandon, M.D.

Dr. Brandon is a dual board-certified psychiatrist in both adult psychiatry and consultation-liaison psychiatry (treatment of psychiatric illness in medically ill adults). She completed her residency and fellowship training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and did a second fellowship in public psychiatry at New York University in New York City

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