Dec 21, 2022 The Head Heart Connection: How Cardiovascular Health and Mental Health are Intertwined

The heart is often thought of as a symbol of our emotions. “Scientists have uncovered a clear link between emotions and heart health, identifying that depression, stress and/or anxiety may make it more likely for individuals to experience a heart attack or heart failure in the future,” explains Gary Rogal, MD, FACC, Medical Director for Cardiovascular Services at RWJBarnabas Health. “In particular, researchers have found that anxiety can increase the body’s level of stress hormones, which elevate blood pressure. People with chronic anxiety are therefore more likely to develop high blood pressure, and people with high blood pressure are more likely to be anxious.”

The relationship goes both ways.

64% -- Increased risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD) for adults with depression.

1 in 5 -- People diagnosed with heart disease who experience major depression.

26% -- Increased risk of developing CAD for adults with anxiety.

20% - 30% -- Adults with elevated anxiety following the onset of acute coronary syndrome.

What does anxiety do to the body?

Anxiety and stress may be associated with the following cardiac risk factors:

  • Release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can overstimulate the cardiovascular system
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate variability

How does depression affect the heart?

  • Biological: It’s linked with elevated blood pressure and heart rate, greater levels of inflammation and increased risk of blood clots.
  • Behavioral: Depressed people are less likely to be physically active and more likely to smoke, overeat and not take medications as prescribed.

What should I do?

  • Tell your health care provider how you’re feeling.
  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Limit alcohol: for women, no more than one drink a day; for men, two drinks.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Consider talking with a mental health counselor.
  • Prescription medications may help.

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. RWJBarnabas Health has a passion for heart health. With the largest combined adult and pediatric cardiac surgery program in the state, NJ’s only heart and lung transplant programs, a partnership with Rutgers Health, the latest technology and medical advancements and nationally-renowned care for every heart in every community. RWJBH brings our care team and knowledge to you by delivering specialized cardiovascular care close to your home and family through NJ’s most comprehensive network of easily accessible hospitals, centers, and physician offices.

Learn more and schedule an appointment.