Depression is a common but largely unrecognized condition that is believed to affect one in six individuals at some point in their lives. Those who suffer from depression experience a loss of enjoyment in life and an overwhelming sadness that is hard to shake. Researchers are beginning to realize that depression does not only affect a patient’s mental well-being, but it can also have serious implications on their physical health. A recent study has found a direct association between depression and heart failure. According to the data, individuals suffering from depression increase their risk of heart failure by 40 percent. The new research hopes to raise awareness on the seriousness of depression in an effort to encourage those who suffer in silence to seek help.

The study was presented for the first time today at the EuroHeartCare 2014 in Norway. It was one of the first large prospective studies to investigate whether depression increased the risk of developing heart complications. Conducted on 63,000 Norwegian citizens, the study recorded the participants BMI, physical activity, smoking habits, and blood pressure, as well as ranking their depression level using the hospital anxiety and depression scale. It began in 1995 and tracked the participant’s hospitalization records over the years.

By the end of the study, 15,000 of the original 63,000 participants had developed heart failure. Results showed that in comparison to those with no symptoms of depression, people with mild symptoms had a 5 percent increased risk of developing heart failure. Those with moderate to severe symptoms had a 40 percent increased risk. It is widely known that those who suffer from depression are more likely to have less healthy life styles, but the study adjusted for factors such as obesity and smoking, both of which can cause depression and heart failure to ensure they had no effect on the association.

Ms. Lise Tuset Gustad, first author of the study and an intensive care nurse in Norway, has a theory on what may cause this link. “Depression triggers stress hormones. If you’re stressed you feel your pulse going up and your breath speeding up, which is the result of hormones being released,” Gustad explained in a recent press release.

These hormones will go on to cause inflammation and atherosclerosis, both of which can cause heart disease. The association between depression and heart disease may link to depressed people finding it hard to follow advice on how to take medications and improve their lifestyles, which makes them less likely to treat the condition. By forgoing treatment for their existing problem, they make it easier to develop further health risks, such as heart disease.

Gustad, along with her team, hope that the findings from their study will help motivate those who suffer from early signs of depression to seek help. They also hope that patients already being hospitalized for other conditions to also be tested for depression in order to catch and treat the condition before it develops further. Early signs of depression are loss of interest and loss of pleasure in things that you have always enjoyed. Treating depression does not always call for medication; often simply speaking with a professional can be enough. “There is effective treatment for depression, particularly is people get help early on. Patients at all hospital should be screened for depression to help them recover from existing illnesses, avoid developing new ones and have a more enjoyable life,” she concluded.

Source: Gustad LT, Laugsand LE, Janszky I, et al. Symptoms of depression and risk of heart failure: The HUNT Study 2. EuroHeartCare. 2014.