A new research study has discovered that peripheral artery disease often accompanies depression.
Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, discovered the relationship during a study of more than one thousand men and women with heart disease.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory problem in which blood flow is reduced to the extremities – usually the legs and feet. Blood flow is reduced because of arterial narrowing with the condition often resulting in pain, reduced mobility and, in extreme cases, gangrene and amputation.
The study may be found online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Researchers followed men and women with coronary artery disease over a seven-year period. The 1,024 participants were members of the Heart and Soul Study.
“We discovered that there was an association between depression and PAD at baseline, and also found that the patients who were depressed at the beginning of the study had a higher likelihood of developing PAD during follow-up at seven years,” said Marlene Grenon, M.D., C.M., a vascular surgeon at UCSF.
“These findings add to the growing body of research showing the importance of depression in both the development and progression of PAD,” said senior author Beth Cohen, M.D., M.A.S. “This also emphasizes the need for medical providers to be attentive to the mental health of their patients who have developed, or who are at risk for, PAD.”
Researchers discovered that some of the risk for PAD was associated with modifiable risk factors such as smoking and reduced physical activity.
“We still don’t know which comes first,” said Grenon. “Is it that patients with PAD become depressed because their mobility is impaired, or that people who are depressed engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise, and are thus more at risk of developing PAD? Or might it be a vicious cycle, where one leads to the other?”
Further research is needed to tease out cause and effect, she said.
Researchers believe that whatever the initial cause, improving healthy habits such as being more physically active, eating better, quitting smoking and improving stress management might reduce both PAD and depression.
“These lifestyle changes would be considered healthy for anyone, and would also help overall cardiovascular health,” said Grenon.
“As providers, we can help patients recognize the connections between mental and physical health,” added Cohen.
“This may help reduce the stigma of mental health diagnosis and encourage patients to seek treatment for problems such as depression.”