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Treat Depression Early and Maybe Save Your Heart

New study finds people receiving treatment for depression are less likely to develop cardiovascular problems

BHM Edit Staff | 2/11/2014, 1:24 p.m.
Depression is a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. depositphotos

Catching depression in its early stages and treating it might lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a new study.

For the eight-year study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers followed 235 people diagnosed with depression. The patients randomly received antidepressants and psychotherapy or standard care determined by their doctor. Participants without heart disease when the study began who received antidepressants and therapy for their depression where 48 percent less likely to have heart attack or stroke than those in the standard care group.

Though health-care professionals know depression is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, this study was designed to look at the effect of medication and therapy compared to standard care on depression, not heart disease, a limitation of the study. Researchers went back through the data to assess the benefits of depression treatment on heart health.

Doctors tend to address the five big risk factors—high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, smoking and family history—when talking about preventing heart attacks. But other risk factors, such as depression, shouldn’t be glossed over, the experts say.

"This line of research could produce a new approach to preventing cardiovascular disease," says Jesse Stewart, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the study’s author.

Results of this research are preliminary, but it could be particularly promising for African Americans, who are over-represented in populations at risk for depression, yet often misdiagnosed.