Cardiologist says heart disease, depression linked

February 15, 2022

Depression and heart attack have a two-way relationship.

Paducah, KY Feb. 7, 2022 -- Depression and heart attack have a two-way relationship: patients with heart disease are at risk of becoming depressed (especially after a heart attack), and depression may increase the chances of developing heart disease.

“What many people don’t know is that each can affect the other,” said Michael Faulkner, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Baptist Health Medical Group in Paducah.  “Specifically, a significant percentage of people with no history of depression develop the condition after being diagnosed with heart disease or having a heart attack, and people who have depression, but no known heart disease seem to have a higher risk of developing a heart condition.”

In fact, heart disease can cause or worsen depression.

“Heart disease can have a significant negative impact on a person’s quality of life,” said Dr. Faulkner. “If heart disease progresses, it can impose limitations on everything from how much a person can work, to what leisure activities they can pursue, to what meals they can eat.” 

It’s these new lifestyle limits which may cause persons diagnosed with heart disease to become depressed (or more depressed) as they cope with a growing sense of helplessness as they wrestle with:

  • Uncertainty about the future.
  • Lack of confidence in their role as an employee, spouse, parent, friend, etc.
  • Guilt and regret about past lifestyle choices that may have affected their health.
  • Worries about dying and how their absence would affect their family

Depression can cause heart disease, hinder recovery

Not only can heart disease cause or worsen depression, but the opposite is true as well. For example, the stress associated with unmanaged depression can lead to high blood pressure and also increase the risk of developing blood clots and having a heart attack. Changes in the nervous system can cause abnormal heart rhythms.

In those recovering from heart attack or heart surgery, depression can cause fatigue and intensify pain – both of which reduce the likelihood that they’ll stick to a rehabilitation plan.

“Depression also increases the chances that a heart patient will engage in unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, and a lack of exercise,” added Dr. Faulkner. “Depression often causes people to withdraw from their usual activities as well, depriving them of the social support that’s an essential part of recovering from heart attack, heart disease or surgery.”

Two-pronged approach

While the link between heart disease and depression is complicated, what’s clear is that it’s best for those suffering from either condition to address both. The good news is that improvements you make in your heart health are likely to have a corresponding effect on your depression, and vice versa.

“Adopting a healthier diet and getting more exercise will benefit your heart, improve your mood and lift your overall sense of well-being,” said Dr. Faulkner. “Taking steps to manage your depression can give you extra energy to be more active, which lowers your risk of heart disease or heart attack.”

You can actually leverage the link between your heart disease and your depression to make positive changes in your overall health. Make a plan to improve your heart health and your mental health today.

Learn more about your heart health by taking our free Heart Health Assessment. For more information about behavioral health services, please visit