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 A recent study led by researchers at Concordia University in association with 5 other Canadian institutions, suggests that heart attacks are twice as likely to occur in patients who battle depression. The study, which recently appeared in the journal Psychophysiology, discussed how people with depression take longer to recover from exercise than people without depression.

The 886 subjects participating in the study averaged 60 years in age. Of these individuals, just over 40 had a diagnosis of major depression. All the participants took a stress test as part of the study. Following the test, their blood pressure and heart rate were noted. The researchers looked at the differences in these numbers, comparing those with depression to those without.

The numbers showed that, for the individuals with depression, their heart rate recovery times i.e., the time it took for their heart rate to return to normal after the stress test – were longer than those of the other participants.

Abnormal functioning of the body’s stress system in depressed individuals may be the cause of this slow recovery time. The authors went on to emphasize that running tests for cardiovascular disease is especially important for anyone with major depressive disorder based on these findings.

Jennifer Gordon, who is currently working on her doctorate at McGill University, is one of the authors of the study. She discussed potential theories behind the link between cardiovascular disease and depression.

One theory that has been proposed is that people who are depressed often don’t take good care of their health in general, compared to people who don’t struggle with a mood disorder. It makes sense that neglecting one’s health to some degree can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems down the road. Another theory points to the fight or flight response, which triggers significant physiological changes that occur in the body when a person is afraid or under a high degree of stress.

The effects of the fight or flight response on the body can be measured by looking at heart rate recovery times following exercise. According to one of the Concordia professors, Simon Bacon, the slower times for the depressed participants points to problems with their stress response. The researchers believe that the heightened risk for heart disease in these individuals is due to this dysfunctional response.

This study really shows how important it is the physicians and other medical and mental health professionals understand that major depression increases the risk for heart disease in the patients they treat. Rather than focusing on the depression alone, this risk should also be addressed in order to decrease their risk of heart disease at some point in the future.




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