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More attention for physical symptoms of depression after treatment for heart disease

05 September 2012

About one in five heart patients develops depression. Researcher Petra Hoen from the UMCG distinguished between various types of symptoms of depression in this group of patients, and ascertained that there was a link with differences in the progression of the illness. If the main symptoms of depression in heart patients are physical, such as fatigue and insomnia, the progress of their illness is worse than in patients suffering depressed mood and concentration problems. Hoen wants to see more attention paid to treating the physical symptoms of depression, through physical exercise for example. On 12 September, she will be awarded a PhD for the results of her research at the University of Groningen.

Heart patients suffer from constricted coronary arteries, which may present as angina pectoris (chest pains) or a heart attack. It is well known that these patients have a higher risk of developing depression after being treated for heart disease. Treatment does little to help either the depression or the heart problems.

Link between depression and heart problems

Hoen studied a group of 473 patients who had developed depression after a heart attack. She made a distinction between the physical symptoms of depression (such as fatigue, problems eating and sleeping) and the cognitive symptoms of depression (such as depressed mood and concentration problems). Her research showed that the physical symptoms are linked to the severity of the heart disease and its progress. Hoen concluded that these physical symptoms indicated a higher risk of renewed heart disease or earlier mortality.

Positive emotions

The impact of negative emotions on the progress of heart disease has been studied in great detail, whereas little research has been carried out into the effects of positive emotions. In order to stop this gap, Hoen monitored a group of 1,019 patients with a stable form of heart disease over a period of seven years. Positive emotions were measured on the basis of how enthusiastic, energetic and alert the patients were. Hoen discovered that heart patients with positive emotions had an increased life expectancy. This link was explained by a higher level of physical activity among the heart patients with a positive attitude. The findings seem to indicate that it may be possible to achieve the increased survival rate linked to experiencing positive emotions by administering treatment that includes physical training.

Curriculum Vitae

Petra Hoen (Groningen, 1986) studies medicine at the University of Groningen. Her PhD research was conducted as part of the Junior Scientific Masterclass in the Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion Regulation department of the SHARE Research Institute at the UMCG. Petra Hoen’s thesis is entitled ‘New perspectives on depression and heart disease.’ Hoen will continue training as a doctor in the UMCG.

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.49 a.m.
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