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Apr 23, 2016

Investigating the Link Between Depression and Heart Attack

Study highlights the need to improve diagnosis and treatment for depression in heart patients.

Screening for depression is critical for patients living with or at risk for heart disease, based on recent studies linking depression to increased risk for heart attack and death.

Presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Sessions, these studies looked at the impact of depression on heart disease—the No. 1 killer of Americans.

The first study, conducted at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, focused on the link between a history of depression and future risk of death. Using Danish medical registries, researchers analyzed the records of nearly 171,000 patients experiencing their first heart attack. Of these patients, 3.5% had been diagnosed with depression before their heart event.

After analysis, researchers found that patients with depression had 12% greater risk of death than those without a previous diagnosis of depression. More severe depression was also associated with greater mortality risk, although this association was not considered statistically significant.

In a second study conducted at the University of Toronto, researchers also found that developing depression after a heart disease diagnosis increases risk for heart attack and death. The study included nearly 23,000 patients from Ontario, Canada who were diagnosed with heart disease between 2008 and 2013.

Overall, researchers found that 1 in 5 patients with heart disease were depressed. During three years of follow-up, patients with depression were 83% more likely to die of any cause than those who were not depressed. Depressed patients were also 36% more likely to suffer a heart attack during the same time period.

“Based on these findings, there may be an opportunity to improve outcomes in people with coronary heart disease by screening for and treating mood disorders,” said Natalie Szpakowski, MD, an internal medicine resident at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study.

“Other studies have also found that more severe chest pain has been linked to depression,” adds Szpakowski, “And we know people with more medical illnesses are more susceptible to being depressed.”

The next step, as experts explain, is to conduct future studies to assess the impact of better screening and treatment for depression. It’s likely that depression increases risk for heart disease and worsens outcomes in patients with existing heart conditions. With better diagnosis and treatment, experts hope to reduce future heart risk in patients with depression.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is depression?
  • Clinical depression is a mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness, loss and anger to interfere with one’s daily life. Although the cause for depression is generally unknown, depression is often treated with antidepressants and/or talk therapy with a professional.
  • Can mental health affect heart health?
  • Yes. Although there’s still much to learn, research suggests there is a close connection between mental and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that patients with a mental illness, like depression, are at increased risk for heart disease. It’s also possible that having heart disease increases risk for depression and can worsen outcomes. It’s important to discuss all aspects of health, including mental health, with your doctor.

Featured Video

Recognizing and treating depression is important because it can slow down a heart patient's recovery and increase the risk of future coronary disease.

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