The strong connection between depression and heart disease has prompted a leading U.S. psychiatrist to propose establishing a new medical subspecialty to diagnose and treat patients who suffer both conditions: “Psychocardiology.”
Loyola University Medical Center psychiatrist Angelos Halaris, M.D., pushed the proposal at a recent meeting of the World Psychiatric Association and International Neuropsychiatric Association in Athens, Greece.
“It is only through the cohesive interaction of such multidisciplinary teams that we can succeed in unraveling the complex relationships among mental stress, inflammation, immune responses and depression, cardiovascular disease, and stroke,” said Halaris.
At the conference, he also presented the results of a recent study he helped direct that found an inflammatory biomarker linked with cardiovascular disease — interleukin-6 — was notably higher in the blood of 48 patients diagnosed with major depression than in 20 other healthy individuals.
He added that studies have shown that up to 60 percent of heart disease patients suffer clinical depression and that about half of depression patients are at risk of developing cardiovascular problems.
Stress, he said, is the key to understanding the association between depression and heart disease. He noted that the body’s immune system fights stress like a disease or infection. In response to stress, the immune system produces proteins called cytokines, including interleukin-6, that initially fight it. But over time, inflammation can lead to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease.
Because physicians often work in isolation — with psychiatrists treating depression and cardiologists treating cardiovascular disease — Halaris proposes they work together in a multidisciplinary “psychocardiology” subspecialty.
“Treating depression expertly and vigorously in young age can help prevent cardiovascular disease later on,” Halaris said.
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