Heart disease and depression are both serious and prevalent conditions; mounting evidence infers that they are connected. Depression has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing heart disease later in life. A new study looks in depth at this relationship.

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Treating depression early might help reduce the chances of developing cardiac problems.

An estimated 6.7% of American adults suffered one or more major depressive episodes in 2014.

Additionally, around 1 in 4 deaths in the US is attributed to some form of heart disease.

Depression and heart disease are not only incredibly common, they also appear to be intrinsically linked.

After a heart attack or heart failure, some individuals who have never been troubled by depression can find themselves under its spell.

Conversely, people who have suffered from depression seem more likely to develop heart problems later in life.

A new study, carried out at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, UT, investigates this relationship further.

Researcher Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist, wanted to examine whether treating depression reduces the chances of developing heart disease.

An additional question that May set out to answer was whether brief encounters with depression still have the ability to increase the risk of heart problems further down the line.

To investigate these questions, May delved into data from Intermountain Healthcare’s depression registry, containing information from more than 100,000 patients. This information source proved essential for the success of the research, as May explains: “There’s little publicly available data about this question.”

From the database, the team used data from the 7,550 patients who had filled in at least two depression questionnaires over the course of 2 years. The individuals were then divided into four groups: never depressed, no longer depressed, remained depressed and became depressed.

The patients were followed to observe whether they later developed cardiovascular problems including stroke, heart attack or heart failure.

The results showed that individuals who were no longer depressed had similar rates of heart disease as those who had never been depressed (4.6% and 4.8%, respectively). However, in the group of individuals who had become depressed during the study or remained depressed, the rates of cardiac disease were higher (6% and 6.4%, respectively).

In other words, treatment for depression resulted in a decreased level of cardiovascular risk that was roughly equivalent to someone who did not have depression.

May summarizes the results as follows:

Our study shows that prompt, effective treatment of depression appears to improve the risk of poor heart health.”

Past research has shown that depression increases the chances of cardiovascular health issues in the long-term but, as May explains, “knowing that alleviating the symptoms of depression reduces a person’s risk of heart disease in the short term, too, can help care providers and patients commit more fully to treating the symptoms of depression.”

The findings will be presented at the 2016 American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in Chicago, IL, on April 2nd.

May hopes to continue research in this field. She notes that the results of the current study are observational, and full clinical trials will be necessary to investigate the interplay between depression and heart disease further.

There is a swarm of potentially confounding variables that must be studied and controlled before solid conclusions can be drawn. For instance, individuals with depression are more likely to be obese; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43% of depressed adults are obese.

Of course, obesity comes with its own range of related cardiac issues. Lack of exercise is another factor that can increase the risk of heart disease and obesity, and also increase the chances of depression. The web between these factors will be no mean feat to unfurl.

Once these factors have been controlled for, and the results are in, the best methods of treating depression will still need to be discussed. Certain antidepressant medications can, themselves, cause changes in weight. The story certainly is a complex one.

Medical News Today recently covered research investigating whether depression and bipolar disease might raise heart disease risk in teens.