Depression and Atrial Fibrillation

According to an American Heart Association meeting report, depression can increase the risk for Atrial Fibrillation or Afib. In fact, whether medicated or not, those who had the highest screening test scores for depression had a 30% higher chance of developing A-fib. As you may know, A-fib is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and it is estimated that over five million Americans may be suffering from it, knowingly or not.

The facts about depression show why this is so important for women. Of the approximately 16 million US adults that suffer from depression, women are diagnosed with depression at a far higher rate than men. In fact, globally, about 5.5% of women suffer from depression versus 3.2% of men. This increased prevalence can be attributed to several things including menstrual and hormonal changes over the course of a woman’s life, pregnancy, and a greater focus on interpersonal relationships.

How does depression affect the heart?

It may seem odd that a psychological condition can have such a profound effect on the heart. However, all we must do is think about what happens when we are stressed, or tired or generally sad. Our heart rates change significantly, and we begin to have a multitude of other physical symptoms. Hormonal balance can also change with the secretion of hormones that can change our bodies and consequently our actions. And indeed, some of these actions can contribute to or worsen the incidence of cardiac arrhythmias – smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, drinking, and more.

Actionable items for women

When diagnosed with depression and/or atrial fibrillation, it is important that the patient is treated holistically. Treating these related disorders individually may not only increase the length of treatment and disability but may not fully address underlying concerns, which can ultimately lead to relapse sooner or later.

However, there are multiple barriers to women seeking treatment for mental and even physical disorders. It was once believed just a few decades ago that women presenting with anxiety and heart palpitations were simply “hysterical” and treatment was often withheld. Fortunately, modern medicine has dismissed this way of thinking and appropriate care is available. However, the stigma associated with mental health issues, including major depressive disorder and even more specific depressive conditions such as postpartum depression, remains and many women have failed to seek treatment due to concerns about how they will be seen or being ashamed of their condition.

Again, having a treatment plan that focuses on a woman more holistically – physically and psychologically – often yields better outcomes and get patients to appropriate treatment more quickly to reduce disability and longer-term problems.

Skip to content