TUESDAY, Feb. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Treating depression
in its early stages might help reduce the risk of heart attack and
stroke, a new study suggests.
Researchers assessed 235 older people diagnosed with depression.
The patients were randomly assigned to receive either
antidepressants and psychotherapy or standard care determined by
Patients who had no evidence of heart disease at the study start
who received antidepressants and therapy for their depression
almost halved their risk of a heart attack or stroke during the
eight years of the study, compared with the standard care group,
the researchers found.
"Ultimately, this line of research could produce a new approach to preventing cardiovascular disease," said study author Jesse Stewart, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Health-care professionals have long known that depression is a
risk factor for heart attack and stroke. However, few studies have
looked at whether depression treatment can reduce the risk of
cardiovascular problems, Stewart noted.
Some studies that have looked at whether treatment can help have
found no effects, he said. But he wondered if the timing of the
treatment might make a difference.
In his study, the patients enrolled between 1999 and 2001. All
were aged 60 or older and diagnosed with depression. In each group,
some had existing cardiovascular disease and some did not.
The study was designed to look at the effect of medication and
therapy compared to standard care on depression, not heart disease.
The researchers took another look at the data to assess the
benefits of depression treatment on heart and brain health.
Over the study period, 119 patients had a cardiovascular problem
such as a heart attack or stroke.
Of the 168 who had no heart disease at the study's start, those
in the group getting therapy and medication were 48 percent less
likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those in the standard
care group, the researchers found.
Those who received both medicine and therapy but had heart
disease when they enrolled in the study did not have a lower risk
of heart attack or stroke than those receiving standard care.
Stewart cautioned that the results are preliminary. The finding
did not prove cause and effect, but only an association.
However, depression is linked with physiological changes, such
as an increase in inflammation, a known risk factor for heart
disease, Stewart noted.
Those who are depressed may also be "more likely to smoke, be
less physically active, have a poor diet and be less adherent to
medications," Stewart said. Those behaviors could also increase
heart attack and stroke risk.
The study was published in the January issue of
One expert said the findings give doctors valuable
The new study explores an additional potential avenue to reduce
the risk of heart disease, and that's a plus, said Dr. Charles
Chambers, an interventional cardiologist at Penn State University
College of Medicine, Hershey.
Much attention has already been focused on depression after a
heart attack, he said. "Depression is very common in heart attack
patients," noted Chambers, the president-elect of the Society for
Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.
One limitation of the study, he said, is that it was designed
originally to look at the effects of different treatments on the
When doctors talk about preventing first heart attacks, Chambers
said, they talk about "the big five risk factors -- high blood
pressure, smoking, diabetes, cholesterol and family history."
However, other issues that boost heart attack and stroke risk
should not be overlooked, he noted.
"Sedentary lifestyle, stress and psychosomatic issues such as depression should not be underestimated," Chambers said.
To learn more about depression and heart disease, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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