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More Evidence Found Linking Depression, Heart Disease

March 10, 2009

Researchers from Columbia University reported new evidence that depression can lead to heart disease.

According to the Associated Press, doctors have long known that depression is common after a heart attack or stroke, and often worsens a patient’s outcome.

However, a long-running Nurses’ Health Study between 1992 and 2004 tracked 63,000 women who had no signs of heart disease when the study began, but showed that nearly 8 percent had evidence of serious depression.

The 12-year study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that depressed women were more than twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death.

They also had a smaller increased risk of death from other forms of heart disease.

One startling find was that cardiac death seemed more closely linked with antidepressant use than with the depression symptoms the women in the study reported.

Lead researcher Dr. William Whang said that finding could mean that women who used antidepressants were, appropriately, the most seriously depressed, but added the finding needed more research.

Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University, a specialist in how psychosocial factors affect health, told AP that studies of the newer antidepressants most often used today haven’t signaled a risk of irregular heartbeat so far, and some even have suggested protection.

Still, he said the work adds to growing evidence that depression is an independent risk factor for heart disease. The most common risks include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

Williams said the finding called for a study testing whether properly treating depression lowers the risk of heart disease.

The researchers also noted that the more severe the women’s reported depression symptoms were, the more likely she was to have traditional heart risk factors. Stresses like depression have also been linked to such physical effects as a higher resting heart rate.

Those who already have heart disease are recommended to undergo regular screenings for depression, according to the American Heart Association.

The AHA said that depressed patients tend to skip their medications, sit indoors instead of exercising, and have overall poor diets.

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