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Can depression be a cause of natural death ?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

This question has been bothering me for a year and a half since my father’s death. My father was a man committed to his family who has always been caring and loving toward us and everyone around him. All of a sudden -out of the blue – he started to feel uneasy and sick with no specific problems. He made an appointment with a doctor, who was unable to diagnose any physical problems and said that he was “imagining his illness” and diagnosed him as suffering from depression.

My father has no family history of mental illness or himself had any such symptoms in the past. He died within two days from heart failure. Is it possible that a person suddenly becomes depressive for no apparent reason and his heart fails from depression? He was 72 years old.

Thank you in advance for your advice.

I am so sorry for your loss. You were fortunate to have such a loving and committed father. My research shows that heart disease and depression are often found together and each one can lead to the other. Given this statistic, co-existing illnesses may be more of a challenge to treat if there is depression involved – that is, if you’re not feeling well emotionally, it can be more of a challenge to follow treatment.

In addition, people with depression appear to be at greater risk for contracting certain illnesses, such as heart disease, in the first place. All of these factors combined may increase risk for dying from illness than they may have been able to treat if they didn’t also have depression.

As stated on the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics website:

“According to the American Heart Association, one in 10 Americans, age 18 and older, have depression. Symptoms of depression are about three times more common in patients after an acute heart attack than in the general population, which strongly suggests a link between depression and heart disease.

While being diagnosed with heart disease or having a heart attack may increase the risk of depression, depression itself may increase the chances of developing heart disease.

According to University of Iowa cardiologist Milena A. Gebska, M.D., Ph.D., a number of factors may explain why patients with depression are at a higher risk for heart disease.

There is a two-way relationship between heart disease and depression,” Gebska says. “On one hand, depression itself is an independent risk factor for adverse cardiac events in patients without known heart disease. On the other hand, patients with known heart disease, particularly those who develop a heart attack, are at increased risk of developing new diagnosis of depression.

Gebska says it is somewhat difficult to prove that heart disease directly leads to a patient’s first-ever episode of depression since many patients may have not been formally diagnosed with depression prior to the cardiac event.

However, from a medical perspective, we can say with certainty that both depression and heart disease often coexist,” Gebska says.

In fact, emotional distress and depression were recently identified as new risk factors for coronary artery disease (blockages in the heart vessels).

Common lifestyle habits brought upon by depression are similar to traditional cardiovascular risk factors. These include a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, poor diet and overeating, and excessive alcohol consumption. Skipping important medications also plays a role.”

For more information, you can understand better how depression and heart disease corollate and co-exist. Do an internet search of “depression and heart disease”. You will find a number of studies that show a high correlation. I hope that your research on this topic helps to give you some comfort.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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