The Effects of Anxiety and Depression on the Heart

By Edo Paz, MD
Medically reviewed
February 11, 2021

Nearly 20% of adults in the US suffer from some form of mental illness, with anxiety and depression being the most common. Aside from the toll these conditions take on a person’s mental health, they can also have important effects on other key organs, including the heart.

Some of these effects result from changes in your behaviors. For instance, anxiety and depressed mood can make someone more likely to be inactive, eat too much, smoke cigarettes, and drink too much alcohol, and these same behaviors are also tied to heart problems like heart attacks.

There are also ways that anxiety and depressed mood can more directly affect your heart. Let’s take a deeper look at exactly how your mental health affects your heart health.

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The Impact of Anxiety on the Heart

You can probably imagine some of the effects that anxiety has on the heart, as many of the symptoms of anxiety are expressed as heart-related, such as heart racing. 

This is because anxiety can activate our body’s stress response, which triggers symptoms like:

  • rapid heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • decreased heart rate variability (a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats)

Although our hearts are designed to handle occasional anxiety and stress, prolonged and sustained anxiety can impact our body’s response to stress, and even increase the amount of inflammation in our body’s blood vessels.

The precise mechanism is unclear, but we do know that people with generalized anxiety disorder suffer from higher rates of heart attacks and other cardiac events, including dying from a heart-related cause.

The Impact of Depression on the Heart

Just like with anxiety, studies have pointed to an increased likelihood of cardiac events like a heart attack in people suffering from depression. Some of this is related to how depressed mood impacts our behaviors, but some are also related to the increased stress response that our body has to depression, much like anxiety.

As a result of these similarities, it may not surprise you to learn that depression is a predictor of heart problems like heart attacks, and even predicts increased mortality in patients with chronic cardiac conditions like congestive heart failure.

Management of Anxiety and Depressed Mood

Occasional anxiety or depressed mood can be normal responses to events that take place in your life, but if you experience these more days than not or if your mood impacts your quality of life, you would probably benefit from treatment for your anxiety and depressed mood.

Treatment for these conditions can range from self-guided activities to therapy with a mental health professional, to medications.

Often the improvement in your symptoms will require all three, or some combination. You can always log on to the K health app and chat with one of our doctors to learn if you might benefit from treatment for your mood.

How K Health Can Help

It’s important to note that treatment for anxiety and depression is not one-size-fits-all and it’s something you should discuss with a primary care physician or trained mental health professional.

K Health can help you manage your anxiety with custom treatment plans, FDA-approved medications, and doctor check-ins every two weeks. Learn more about our anxiety and depression treatment program and start a free assessment today.

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When to See a Doctor

If your anxiety and depression feel overwhelming and prevents you from performing everyday tasks, then a more comprehensive care plan is usually necessary and you should talk to a doctor for help.

It’s important to note if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, we recommended you call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Edo Paz, MD

Edo Paz is the VP of Medical at K Health. Dr. Paz has two degrees in chemistry from Harvard and an MD from Columbia University. He did his medical training in internal medicine and cardiology at New York-Presbyterian. In addition to his work at K Health, Dr. Paz is a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, a cardiology practice located in New York City.