Can Treating Depression Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack?

Study compares effect of antidepressants and statins
Can Treating Depression Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack?

Don’t let heart disease get you down. Heart disease patients with depression tend to have worse outcomes.

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That fact is nothing new. But does that mean treating depression could lower your risk of heart attack, stroke or another major cardiac event? A recent study intended to find out.

Here’s what happened:

  • More than 26,000 people participated. None of them had taken antidepressants or been diagnosed with heart disease before joining the study.
  • Everyone completed a questionnaire to gauge his or her level of potential depression. About one in five patients were categorized as having “moderate to severe” depression. The rest were categorized as having “no to mild” depression.
  • Within two months of taking the survey, some participants were prescribed antidepressant medication and/or statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs).
  • Three years later, nearly 1,200 participants (4.4 percent) had experienced a major cardiac event.
  • Among those with mild or no depression, participants who took statins had the lowest risk of having a major cardiac event. (No surprise there.)
  • Among those with moderate to severe depression, participants with the lowest risk of having a major cardiac event were those who took antidepressants only — not statins. That was a big surprise to researchers, who had expected the best outcomes to be in those who took both antidepressants and statins.

How managing depression improves heart health

“Patients who are depressed and treated for depression tend to have better quality of life, better outlook and better adherence to cardiovascular wellness activities,” says Cleveland Clinic psychiatrist Leo Pozuelo, MD.

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In other words, when you are emotionally sound, you are more likely to be physically active, eat better and comply with other doctor’s orders, such as taking prescription medications. That can improve your heart health.

However, it doesn’t mean depression treatment is better for your heart than conventional treatments, like taking statins, warns Dr. Pozuelo.

“While the study reported that those on antidepressants but no statins fared better, we don’t know enough about the patients — such as their lipid levels or health behaviors — to really understand the impact of statins or no statins,” says Dr. Pozuelo.

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More than antidepressants is needed

Recognizing and managing depression is an important part of treating patients with heart disease, but it’s not the only part. “Assessing depression should be part of every evaluation for heart disease, just like screening for high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” concludes Dr. Pozuelo.

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