A new study is casting the tie between depression and heart disease in a new light. Researchers are presenting a three-year study following 5,000 patients with moderate to severe depression. It showed treatments with antidepressants had a lower instance of death, heart disease and stroke.

If you do not have diagnosed depression, don’t start badgering your doctor for pills. The correlation did not appear in healthy patients.

“Antidepressants were not associated with a reduced cardiovascular risk in people with little or no depression, but in moderately to severely depressed people, antidepressants were shown to significantly improve cardiovascular outcomes,” Dr. Heidi May says.

Lead author, Dr. Heidi May of the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake, will present her team’s findings at the annual conference of the American Academy of Cardiology.

Survey questionnaires of the 26,000 patients that came through the center over the past three years, found 5,311 had some form of a mental illness. The 20 percent showed moderate to severe depression, while the remaining 21,000 patients did not screen for depression symptoms on the 9-question depression survey.

The screening test focused on a patient’s mood, sleep and appetite. Dr. May says the findings justify screening patients to not only treat their mental health, but possibly heart disease.

“This study demonstrates the importance of evaluating patients for depression, not only in terms of improving their mood, but reducing their risk for heart disease.”

Analyzing rate of death, coronary disease and stroke versus treatment protocols for depression show patients on antidepressants fared better across the study period. The study also suggested that treating severe depression with antidepressants above statins had a greater protective effect.

“We thought we’d see an additive effect,” Dr. May says. Researchers found “that in the more depressed people, the antidepressant really was what made the biggest difference.”

The study does have its drawbacks. Researchers could not account for non drug counseling for depression, physical activity and changes in lifestyle habits. It was confined to medical records, but did account for cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

More research will need to be conducted to see if there’s an actual cause and effect relationship beyond just correlation.

Depression and Heart Disease

If you do suffer from heart disease, the National Institute of Health has a symptom guideline to glance over. The disease has been linked to increased rates of depression.

  • Ongoing sad, anxious, or empty feelings
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyable, including sex
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, a condition called insomnia, or sleeping all the time
    Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Thoughts of death and suicide or suicide attempts
  • Ongoing aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment.

What you can do to ease those symptoms is the daily mantra you hear for overall health. Eat healthy, exercise, quit drinking and definitely quit smoking. If you are diagnosed, several treatment options exists including medications and talk therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Visit the American Heart Association for more tips to keep your heart healthy.

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