Women More Prone to Depression, Anxiety After Heart Attack
Major depression is a form of severe mental illness capable of producing debilitating changes in an affected individual’s day-to-day mood. Like all forms of depression, the illness belongs to a larger category of mental health conditions known as mood disorders. By definition, a person diagnosed with major depression goes through at least one bout of serious symptoms lasting for at least two weeks. Common examples of these symptoms include intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness and/or guilt, as well as unusual sleeplessness or sleepiness, a notable drop in energy levels, aching or cramping muscles, concentration problems and a partial or complete loss of the ability to feel pleasure during previously favored activities. Some people experience recurring bouts of these symptoms over time.
Nearly 7 percent of American adults experience at least one bout of major depression in any given year, the National Institute of Mental Health reports. The condition also affects more than 3 percent of teenagers. The average woman has a substantially higher chance of developing major depression symptoms than the average man. Other demographic groups most commonly impacted by the condition include European Americans and adults in their early 30s.
Heart Problems and Depression
Heart disease refers to an array of conditions that lower your heart’s ability to fulfill its critical role of delivering oxygen-rich blood to your body. A heart attack occurs when at least one of the arteries traveling to the heart does not carry enough blood to keep the heart’s tissues functioning normally; if this lack of an adequate blood supply lasts for any significant amount of time, the affected individual can die. Doctors and researchers note the clear link between depression and heart disease, but don’t fully understand why this link exists. In some cases, a depressed person may fail to lead a lifestyle capable of supporting good heart health. Conversely, health changes in the aftermath of a heart attack may have a substantially negative effect on a person’s mental state and mood.
Do Women Have Higher Risks?
In the study presented to the European Society of Cardiology, researchers from Lithuania’s Vilnius University used a project involving 160 men and women who had survived a heart attack to probe the gender-related risks of developing major depression or an anxiety disorder after a heart attack occurs. Each of these men and women took part in a detailed interview at least 30 days after he or she had a heart attack. The researchers used information gathered from these interviews to gauge the level of depression and anxiety symptoms present in each person.
All told, nearly one in four (24.4 percent) of the study participants developed major depression symptoms after experiencing a heart attack. When the researchers compared the level of such symptoms in men to the level of such symptoms in women, they found that women have a substantially higher number of post-heart attack indications of major depression. In addition, they found that women have a substantially higher number of post-heart attack indications of an anxiety disorder.
The study’s authors believe their findings clearly point toward gender-related increased risks for major depression and diagnosable anxiety in women who survive heart attacks. They note that previous research efforts have generally failed to identify this gender-specific health problem. They also note that, unfortunately, women are often not the primary focus of studies that explore the health risks associated with living through a heart attack.
The Vilnius University team also looked at the impact that smoking has on the mental health of men and women who survive heart attacks. They concluded that the use of cigarettes in the time period preceding a heart attack significantly increases the risks for developing a post-heart attack anxiety disorder, but not post-heart attack major depression.