We know that a person’s family history is one factor that doctors use to evaluate the risk of heart disease. Lifestyle choices are another. If you smoke, consume a lot of trans fats in your diet, and don’t exercise regularly, the risks to your health go up. These are all things that you are able to control, and everyone can take some steps to improve their health by looking after themselves well.
The results of a new study have been released, and having a history of major depression will put you in a higher risk category than a family history of heart disease. Depression is such a common problem that is has been referred to as “the common cold of mental illness.” This disorder costs the economy in the United States $40 million every year in lost work days and lowered productivity.
What is Major Depression?
Major depression is also known as clinical depression or unipolar depression. Most people who experience an episode of depression report feeling sad or hopeless. The kinds of activities that they used to enjoy no longer give them any feeling of pleasure. People who are depressed may also have problems with forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and loss of appetite. Aches and pains are also common.
Major Depression as a Risk Factor
The study was conducted by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans’ Administration. Participants were 1,200 sets of male twins. All of them had served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. The men answered a series of survey questions about a number of health concerns, including depression, in 1992, and the survey was repeated in 2005. The men who reported feeling depressed in 1992 were twice as likely to develop heart disease in the years they were followed as part of the study than men who didn’t have a prior history of this disorder.
Working with twins means the participants in the study could be grouped into different groups, depending on their level of risk of depression based on family and environmental histories.
Different categories of participants were compared after researchers made adjustments for other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
In identical twins, both have the same genetic makeup and grew up in the same environment. Both may be at risk for becoming depressed based on inherited factors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that if one person becomes depressed the other one also develop the disorder as well. In situations where one only one twin gets depressed, the one who does not have symptoms is at a lower risk for heart disease than his sibling.
These participants will continue to be followed by researchers. The next step in the process of researching the relationship between depression and heart disease is to look at how getting treatment for depression and returning to a normal mood level affects the risk of developing heart disease.