Being Depressed Doubled Death Rate for Heart Patients

Screening for depression should be ongoing in patients with heart disease, the study's lead author said.

Depression doubled the risk of death for patients with heart disease, whether they develop depression right after learning the news or years later, according to a new study of more than 24,000 patients.

In fact, the study from researchers at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found that depression was the single best predictor of death among patients with cororary artery disease, and remained so even after they controlled for other factors.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal—Quality Care and Clinical Outcomes, found that 15% of the patients were diagnosed with depression at some point after learning they had heart disease.

While most studies screen patients for depression at a single point in time—usually 30 days after a heart event—this study dug deeper, and looked at the relationship between death rate and patients who became depressed at any point after the heart disease diagnosis.

“We’ve completed several depression-related studies and been looking at this connection for many years,” Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Intermountain, said in a statement. “The data just keeps building on itself, showing that if you have heart disease and depression and it’s not appropriately treated in a timely fashion, it’s not a good thing for your long-term well-being.”

Studies show the conditions feed on each other: depression makes heart disease worse, and vice versa. Patients with heart disease who developed depression were more likely to be young, female, and have diabetes. Many learned of their condition by having a heart attack.

May speculated that depression may reflect how well these patents follow treatment plans, and this may lead to early death. Depression also causes changes in the body.

The takeaway, she said, is that depression can occur long after a heart event. “Continued screening for depression needs to occur. After one year, it doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods.”