Doctors aren't sure why, but depression is much more common in heart disease patients than in the general population. In fact, people with heart disease run twice the risk of depression, according to a study published in the April 2009 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics and reported in Science Daily.

Researchers are finding that genetic variations may contribute to depression in heart disease patients. The genes related to the body's blood vessels may be a predictor of depression in these patients, according to the study, which is  the first large-scale genetic study.

"Depression can significantly impact quality of life for heart disease patients and can increase the risk for additional cardiac events or even death," says lead author Jeanne M. McCaffery, Ph.D., of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at The Miriam Hospital in Canada, which collaborated on the research with the Montreal Heart Institute, University of Montreal and McGill University. "Although it's too early to begin to speculate about the possible clinical implications of these findings, it's intriguing to think that there may be a genetic explanation as to why people with heart disease are more susceptible to depression."

This study targeted 977 patients with heart disease who had either a 50 percent or higher blockage in at least one major heart artery or who had suffered a heart attack. The depressive symptoms were measured using a standardized self-reported questionnaire.

Several theories could explain the increased risk of depression, researchers say. Feelings of sadness and hopelessness could be linked to the stress of a poor prognosis or to a systemic inflammation. So far, there's been little attention paid to the idea of a genetic cause.

Depression and heart disease have been linked before. In an earlier study, in March 2009, researchers found that a history of major depression increased the risk of heart disease over and above any genetic links. That study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society and reported in Science Daily.

"Based on our findings, we can say that after adjusting for other risk factors, depression remains a significant predictor of heart disease," Science Daily quoted first author Jeffrey F. Scherrer, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, as saying.

If you're feeling sad and hopeless and can't put your finger on what's causing it, don't suffer in silence. There are dozens of medications available to treat depression today, many with significantly fewer side effects than some of the older medications. Often, an antidepressant is offered in conjunction with psychotherapy, also known as therapy, psychosocial therapy or counseling, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Through counseling sessions, patients are helped to get back a sense of control in their life, says the Mayo Clinic. Counseling also can help patients to regain their feelings of wellbeing.  The bottom line? Reach out and ask for help. Sometimes, it just may help to talk things out.