For years doctors have known that patients suffering from depression have higher risks of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Until now, they didn't understand why.
Researchers at Loyola University Health System, Maywood, Ill.
discovered that depressed patients have higher levels of inflammatory substances in their blood, leading to physiological reactions that, over time, damage the heart.
"The body and the mind are closely connected, and they affect each other. We've found that even though patients' depression gets better within six to eight weeks with treatment, it may take up to six months for the inflammation markers to return to normal," says Dr. Angelos Halaris,
of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
"The changes caused by the inflammation are like a slow-growing cancer that goes undetected because they cause no symptoms."
The study found that inflammation from stress alters the structure of blood vessels and activates platelets to form, which increases clotting. As clots clump together plaque forms, ultimately leading to atherosclerosis,
a narrowing or hardening of the arteries that could eventually cut off the flow of blood and cause a heart attack or stroke.
"Unfortunately, clots don't have boundaries," said Dr. Omer Iqbal, co-researcher at the Stritch School of Medicine. "They can dislodge and travel to the vessels of the heart and cause a heart attack, and they can also reach the brain and cause strokes."
In light of this new information, patients treated for depression should be routinely screened and monitored for heart disease and excessive stress
If you're being treated for depression, know the signs of heart disease
and cardiovascular disease
, and take precautions to prevent them