Groundbreaking research suggests the treatment of depression before any apparent signs of cardiovascular disease can decrease the risk of future heart attacks and strokes by almost half.
Jesse C. Stewart, Ph.D., of the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, says the research is the first to discover the potential cardiac benefit of depression care.
“Previous studies we and others have conducted indicate that depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But past depression treatment studies involving cardiac patients have not shown the anticipated cardiovascular benefits.
“So we asked ourselves, what if we treated depression before the onset of cardiovascular disease? Could that cut the risk of heart attack and stroke? Our results suggest that the answer is yes,” said Stewart.
Among the 168 patients with no cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, those who received collaborative care to treat their depression had a 48 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke over the next eight years than did patients who received standard care for their depression.
In contrast, collaborative care was not associated with a lower risk of a heart attack or stroke among the 67 patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease.
These findings suggest that depression treatment may need to be initiated before the onset of cardiovascular disease if cardiovascular benefits are desired.
“Lifestyle changes — such as stopping smoking — and blood pressure and cholesterol medications are important approaches to decreasing risk of heart attacks and strokes. Our findings, if confirmed in a larger clinical trial, could provide an important new approach — depression treatment — to preventing cardiovascular events,” said Dr. Stewart.
He and his collaborators are seeking funding to conduct a larger randomized controlled trial to verify that treating depression earlier in the natural history of cardiovascular disease reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Depression affects more than 6.5 million Americans age 65 years or older, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
“In the near future, depression treatment may play an important role in reducing disability and death due to cardiovascular disease,” said Stewart.
The study appears in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.