Doctors don't yet know if treating depression can prevent heart disease, but they do know that if you have heart disease and you're depressed, treating depression is critical to your recovery and your quality of life.
It's normal to feel a bit blue and anxious shortly after treatment for a heart condition. But if you don't feel better after two to three weeks, you may need psychological help.
Your cardiologist may not understand
Unfortunately many heart specialists may not have the time or the expertise to address depression, says Sharonne Hayes, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic's Women's Heart Clinic.
"Cardiologists may not be comfortable with touchy-feely stuff," she says. "They want to treat lipids and chest pain." And most are not trained to cope with mental health issues.
Jim McBride, 63, of Dover, Del., started feeling anxious and depressed about a month after his heart attack in 2006, but none of his doctors told him about the link between depression and recovery. "Had I been told before leaving the hospital or soon after about some of the potential effects of the heart attack, I probably would have gotten help sooner for the anxiety and depression and known what to expect," he says.
When heart doctors seem unconcerned about your mood, go elsewhere for helpeither your primary care physician or a mental health specialist.
McBride finally turned to his primary care physician who prescribed an antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, and therapy. "It immediately helped my mental state and allowed me to concentrate fully on my heart recovery," he says.
Antidepressants can be heart medicines
Treatments for depression range from talk and behavioral therapy to exercise to medication. For many patients the cornerstone of treatment will be an antidepressant medication, most likely an SSRI (selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor) such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft.
"SSRIs are really heart medicines in disguise," says Wayne Sotile, PhD, director of psychological services at the Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise & Lifestyle Programs and author of Thriving With Heart Disease (Free Press, 2003).
Research suggests SSRIs can help prevent blood clots and encourage healthy rhythms in the heart. And when taken properly, they can lift patients out of the depression and move them toward recovery.