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Mar 12, 2014

Panel: Depression Should be a Risk Factor for Heart Disease

After thorough review, experts recommend adding depression to the list of risk factors for heart disease.

Depression should be added to the official list of risk factors for heart disease, according to a panel of experts from the American Heart Association.

Among the millions of heart attack survivors in the United States, roughly one-fifth suffer from depression. And while most healthcare professionals acknowledge that depression can worsen outcomes, the American Heart Association has yet to add it to the current list of established risk factors for heart disease, which includes conditions like obesitydiabetes and hypertension. That’s why the American Heart Association tasked a panel of experts to review the entire body of evidence on the subject and provide recommendations based on their findings.

After reviewing a total of 53 studies on the topic, experts have no doubt that there’s a clear link between depression and poorer outcomes for heart patients. Most studies included in this review found that heart attack patients with depression fared much worse than similar patients without depression. In fact, depression appeared to significantly increase risk for complications and death in heart attack patients.

Consequently, the panel of experts concluded that depression should be listed as an official risk factor for poor outcomes in patients with acute coronary syndrome (an umbrella term for situations where blood flow to the heart suddenly stops, like during a heart attack). Adding depression as an official risk factor would not increase the diagnosis and treatment of depression in heart patients. Instead, it has the potential to improve outcomes for patients living with heart disease.

Based on this recent review, it’s not a question of “if” depression will be added as an official risk factor for heart disease, but rather “when.”  Although authors still hope for additional research on the topic, they’re confident in existing research linking depression to poorer cardiovascular outcomes.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is depression common among heart patients?
  • Yes, depression is relatively common among patients living with heart disease. Not only has depression been linked to heart disease, patients living with depression often have worse outcomes than individuals without this condition. If you’re worried that you might suffer from depression, it’s important to talk with your doctor to better understand the condition and possible treatments.
  • How do I know if I have depression?
  • Symptoms of depression may include difficulty concentrating, feeling sad or irritable, loss of appetite, loss of interest in everyday activities and trouble sleeping. However, depression affects each person differently so symptoms can vary. If you feel depressed or are concerned about depression, make an appointment to see your doctor.

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