March 10, 2009

Depression can break your heart

U.S. researchers suggest that relatively healthy women with severe depression are at increased risk of cardiac events including sudden cardiac death.

It's important for women with depression to be aware of the possible association between depression and heart disease, and work with their healthcare providers to manage their risk for coronary heart disease, lead investigator Dr. William Whang of Columbia University Medical Center said in a statement.

A significant part of the heightened risk for cardiac events seems to be explained by the fact that coronary heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and smoking were more common among women with more severe depressive symptoms.

Whang and colleagues studied 63,469 women from the Nurses Health Study who had no evidence of prior heart disease or stroke during follow-up between 1992-2004. Self-reported symptoms of depression and use of antidepressant medication were used as measures of depression.

To best identify those with clinical depression, researchers specifically examined women with the most severe symptoms defined by a validated 5-point mental health index score of less than 53 or regular antidepressant use.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that women with more severe depressive symptoms or those who reported taking antidepressants were at higher risk for sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease. In addition, women with clinical depression were more than twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death.