DEPRESSION: It's not all in your head

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EXPERTS HAVE long suspected that depression could be bad for your heart--but no one knew just how dangerous the impact could be. Now comes evidence that getting the blues can indeed raise the risk of deadly heart disease. And raise it a lot.

Brenda Penninx, a gerontologist at Wake Forest University, followed 2,900 patients--both with and without heart disease--for four years to trace the effects of depression. In the end, patients with major depression were almost four times as likely to die of heart disease as were nondepressed patients, whether or not they had cardiac problems in the first place. Even subjects with mild depression experienced a fatality rate 50 percent higher than normal.

Penninx isn't sure exactly how chronic cases of the doldrums lead to permanent bodily damage. Depression often means stress, and stress triggers an outpouring of the hormone cortisol, which can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. That response, if repeated over and over, can have deadly consequences. It's not only hormones that wreak inner havoc: Depressed people are often less active and less likely to seek medical treatment. All these factors add up to far greater odds of having a life-threatening heart problem.

"Depression deserves a lot more attention than it usually gets," Penninx warns. "It's a huge cardiac risk factor, so it's really crucial to take care of your emotions."

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Contributed by Ingfei Chen; Danielle Lazarin; Paula Motte; Evelyn Spence; Nina Willdorf; Kimberly Wong and Cassandra Wrigthson

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