Post-heart attack depression can be deadly

By Tom Nordlie • Published: January 11th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Heart attacks never inspire cheerfulness and optimism.

And in fact, about twenty percent of people who suffer heart attacks become clinically depressed afterward.

When that happens, it doubles the risk of death from another cardiac event.

So far, it’s been unclear whether treatment for depression reduces that risk.

A recent study in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests medication can help.

But not all patients respond favorably.

In the study, seventy depressed heart attack patients were given antidepressants. About forty percent showed significant improvement in their symptoms.

Researchers followed up eighteen months after the initial heart attack. Among patients who improved, seven percent had another cardiac event after treatment ended.

For those who didn’t respond to medication, the recurrence rate was twenty-five percent.

Researchers also tracked a control group of patients who weren’t given antidepressants.

In that group, eleven percent had another cardiac event.

The study confirms there’s a connection between stubborn depression and future heart attacks. But what is it?

Researchers aren’t sure, because it’s unknown why some patients don’t respond to antidepressants.

Maybe the depression promotes heart attacks. But maybe a third factor is involved.

Whatever’s happening, this study shows it’s important for doctors and patients to communicate about post-heart attack depression.

By evaluating the risks and treatment options they can maximize the chances of a happy outcome, or at least avoid being caught unprepared for a future cardiac event.

Because when it comes to heart health, ignorance is definitely not bliss.