A new study suggests relatively healthy women with severe depression are at increased risk of cardiac death.
For some time, doctors have known that depression is common after a stroke or heart attack, and it worsens those people’s outcomes. Now, researchers have discovered new evidence that depression can lead to heart disease in the first place.
For the study, researchers followed 63,000 women from The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) which began in 1992 and ended in 2004. At the start of the study, none of the participants had signs of heart disease, but nearly 8 percent did show signs of severe depression.
The study, which is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded, that women with clinical depression were twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death – death that is typically caused by an irregular heartbeat. Additionally, they had a smaller increased risk of death from other forms of heart disease.
The researchers were surprised by the cardiac death cases that seemed more closely linked with antidepressant use than with the depression symptoms the women had reported.
The use of antidepressant drugs was not associated with a higher risk of heart attacks or overall fatal heart disease, just with sudden cardiac death. It may mean, that those women who use antidepressants were more severely depressed, says lead researcher, Dr. William Whang, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, noting that further research is merited.
The connection between depression and heart trouble is more than likely physical, not psychological, Whang added. "We found that women who had severe depressive symptoms had higher rates of risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and smoking," he said.
Earlier studies have shown a connection between depression and higher mortality for people who already had heart disease, says Whang. “But this was a group of women that did not have heart disease and therefore that makes it different,” he said.
The management of coronary heart disease risk factors may be especially important for those with depressive symptoms. Taking care of those risk factors can modify the risk for coronary disease. #