Mental health is a vital aspect of our general wellness, encompassing our spiritual, psychological, and societal well-being. Mental health plays a role in the way we think, feel, behave, and make decisions. But recent studies have shown that mental health can affect our heart health as well, and vice versa. That is why it is vital for people suffering from heart diseases to pay close attention to their mental health. Even a little bit of stress or anxiety can lead to higher heart rate and blood pressure, which causes stress on the patient’s heart, further increasing the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
This article discusses the linkage between mental health and heart health, guiding you to recognise the signs, symptoms of heart issues caused by mental illnesses in yourself or your loved ones. Read on for diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases that are linked to mental health, and tips to keep both your heart and your mind in good health.
1. Mental Health and Heart Diseases
For years, doctors attribute heart diseases mainly to dietary negligence and a stressful lifestyle. But, recent studies have shown that there are physiological connections too. Problems of the mind can cause problems of the heart. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been linked to cardiac abnormalities such as heart failure, stroke, and cardiac arrest. The molecular and physiological components that cause mental illness can also have an impact on cardiac disease.
Below are two most common mental disorders and how they can cause heart diseases.
- Anxiety & Heart Attack:
When a person experiences mental strain or stress, their body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. The role of cortisol is to help us focus on solving the stressful situation. However, the continuous presence of excess cortisol in the bloodstream due to anxiety does more harm than good for the heart. Long term high levels of cortisol has been well documented to be linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and buildup of artery plaques which are major risk factors for a
- Depression & Stroke and Heart Failure:
Depression is an indirect cause of heart diseases. For example, it can cause a severe lack of motivation in the patient, resulting in dietary negligence which can cause obesity or diabetes; or lack of physical activity which can contribute to high blood pressure. These seem like very minute issues on their own, but over time can put the person at significantly greater risk for heart problems like stroke and heart failure, especially those who have other risk factors.
2. How do Heart Diseases lead to Mental Disorders?
Many patients and loved ones think that a lack of motivation, stress, and depression are normal reactions to the traumatic events caused by cardiovascular diseases. Once they recover physically, address the financial issues related to the event, if any, and get back to their daily life, the mental problems will go away. However, years of research have uncovered various, often intricate and unexpected, relationships among heart disease and mental disease. Though the two might be causally related, mental illness requires treatment and therapy independently from one’s heart condition.
Following are some heart conditions caused by mental health issues.
- Heart Attack:
When a section of the heart tissue doesn’t get sufficient blood supply, a heart attack – also known as a myocardial infarction – can happen. The longer the heart muscle goes without therapy to improve blood circulation, the more harm it can cause, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is estimated that 12% of heart attack survivors experience PTSD. The danger lies in the fact that those who develop PTSD are at twice as high a chance to experience a recurrent heart attack compared with those who do not have PTSD. Thus, treatment for PTSD can improve the well-being of the heart attack patient both physically and mentally.
- Heart Failure:
A heart that cannot maintain pace with its workload is said to be in cardiac failure. Heart failure is a critical and gradual ailment which can be managed but not treated. This condition can take a serious toll on a person, both physically and mentally. Panic, frustration, despair, as well as worry are reported to be prevalent emotions. For some, these sentiments come and go. Others are in a constant state of anxiety as a result of cardiac failure. Additionally, a number of drugs used to manage heart failure might cause depression. Some people find that heart failure has a negative impact on their capability to cope with mental and emotional distress.
Mental wellness issues are not uncommon among stroke patients. Changes in mood, personality and behavior including PTSD are one of the major long-term side effects after a stroke. Post-stroke rehabilitation and recovery plans sometimes focus on treating and improving the physical issues rather than the mental health side effects. But stroke patients need both to recover well. Read our article on after-stroke care for a guide on managing mental and psychological side effects of stroke here.
3. Stress: A Common Cause of both Heart and Mental Issues
Stress is an inevitable component of everyday living. Stress can be caused by physical factors such as pressure at work, a lack of rest or an illness. Psychological pain can also be a source of stress, such as job or income loss or losing a beloved person.
The body reacts to stress by releasing chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline to deal with the stressful event. Such a stress response is designed to keep us safe. However, it can wreak havoc on our health, both when it is low but continual, or when it is excessively high over a short period of time. Stress has been linked to a rise in cholesterol – which can cause hyperlipidemia, a rise in blood sugar – which can cause diabetes, and persistently elevated blood pressure or hypertension. Altogether, a person under constant stress or extreme stress is at greater risk of developing cardiovascular and mental diseases.
A number of other mechanics link stress and coronary heart diseases. The frequent stress reaction can trigger changes in the body that increase calcium development in the arteries, causing them to harden – medically known as atherosclerosis. Stress can also divert blood supply away from the heart, depriving it of sufficient oxygenated blood. Long-term stress can also impact blood clotting. This thickens the blood as well as raises the risk of strokes.
4. How to Take Care of Mental Health for Heart Patients
Now that we are aware of the impact of heart conditions on mental health, it is important to be able to recognise mental issues among heart patients and get prompt and adequate treatment.
Heart and stroke patients and caregivers are recommended to follow the below steps to safeguard their mental health.
- Recognize the Signs Of Mental Issues
Firstly, it is crucial not to take mental issues lightly and try to recognize the signs of mental distress early on. Take note of symptoms of mental health problems such as changes in sleeping or eating habits, excessive worry or sadness, signs of withdrawal, irritability or changes in mood and personality.
- Monitor Heart Conditions Regularly
A patient who has suffered from one cardiac event is at risk of a recurrent one. Those with PTSD have a greater risk, as mentioned above. Thus, constant monitoring of heart conditions is necessary to prevent recurrence. With advances in medical technology, patients can now conveniently conduct ECG monitoring at home using wearable devices such as RootiRx. This enables the doctor to actively and remotely monitor a patient’s heart condition, while saving patients the hassles of making a daily trip to the clinic for heart monitoring.
- Beat the Stigma to Get Diagnosed and Treated
To get started on the mental wellness recovery journey, it is critical to beat the stigma and understand that mental disorders do not go away by themselves and it is alright to seek professional help. Ask your heart doctor for a referral of a psychiatrist, and keep them both informed of your condition.
- Get Social Support
Individuals struggling with mental issues need reminder and encouragement that they are not weak or failing, and most importantly they are not alone. Aside from their families and close friends, social circles and support groups are a good source of support. By connecting with people going through the same challenge, or have successfully come out of this state, they will feel more confident to drive the mental shift and accelerate their recovery.
5. How to Take Care of Heart Health for Patients with Mental Health Issues
As mental health can have an impact on heart health, people with mental health problems, especially those with risk factors for heart diseases, are recommended to conduct regular heart health check to detect and address any cardiac issues early. Heart screening can be done at many GP’s, clinics or hospitals in Singapore. Check our guide on cardiovascular screening here to learn more.
Risk factors for heart diseases include modifiable factors such as diet, physical activity level, existence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc; and non-modifiable factors such as age, gender, family history. To find out your risk profile for common heart diseases in Singapore, read our in-depth article here.
6. Takeaway Message
Mental health is a very important aspect of our lives. If we do not take good care of our mental health, problems with other body functions can arise, including serious conditions for our heart health. Similarly, we need to safeguard our heart and our body for the mind to be healthy. If mental health issues arise, it is important to recognise the signs and symptoms, beat the stigma and seek medical help early.
As one of the leading home care providers in Singapore, Ninkatec offers personalised care plans for heart patients with mental problems, right in the comfort of their home. We combine medical technology and clinical expertise from a team of cardiologist, psychiatrist and other specialists to care for all aspects of patients’ well-being. We also provide heart health screening service for everyone who wishes to take precaution for their cardiac wellness.
Get in touch with Ninkatec Care Team for a private consultation session about your heart and mental health via call, email, Whatsapp chat or contact form below.