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Investigating the Link Between Depression and Heart Attack

CardioSmart News

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.

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