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Lasting Depression Doubles the Odds of Death within 7 Years of a Heart Attack

posted 12:17 AM EST, Tue September 08, 2009
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Lasting Depression Doubles the Odds of Death within 7 Years of a Heart Attack © Photo Credit: Hamed Parham

A heart attack increases your odds of experiencing clinical depression – and after a heart attack, experiencing clinical depression that lasts for longer than 6 months greatly increases your odds of early death.

People who experience heart attacks or other severe cardiac events have a 15% to 20% risk of experiencing clinical depression after the fact, which is 2 to 3 times the prevalence rate amongst the adult population as a whole.

Depression after a heart attack is known to increase the risks of death, and researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute wanted to quantify this risk profile.

They looked at data from 361 patients who took part in a previous study on anti depressant use following a cardiac event. They found that the most significant predictor of death was experiencing a clinical depression that did not get better within 6 months – and whether anti depressant medications were used or not was irrelevant.

People who were depressed before and after the cardiac event had no additional risk, so long as their depression lifted within the 6 month window.

Of the patients studied (all who experienced depression):

  • 15.6% of those whose depression lifted within 6 months died over the following 7 years
  •  28.4% of those whose depression lasted for more than 6 months died during that same 7 year period - almost twice as many.

The authors suggest that depression can worsen heart disease and that heart disease can worsen depression, calling the clinical association, “a two way street.”

Dr. Katrina Davidson, out of Columbia University, who was not involved in the study but who has studied the influence of depression on cardiac outcomes, suggested one possible reason for the increased mortality rate, saying,  "We've been shocked when we objectively measure whether patients take their pills or not. Depressed patients just don't take their pills."

Other researchers suggest that increased mortality rates occur due to the sedentary lifestyle associated with depression, and that increasing participation in exercise activities may reduce the risks.

The study researchers suggest that anyone experiencing depression after a heart attack get early and intensive mental health treatment.

The full study results can be found in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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