An irregular heartbeat may be associated with a slightly greater risk for depression, according to a new study from Germany.
Approximately five million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2010. The rhythm disorder — which affects the heart’s upper chambers — can be triggered by a number of factors, including heart attacks, infections and heart valve problems.
For the study, Dr. Renate Schnabel from the University Heart Center in Hamburg and her research team wanted to see if depression might affect the course of atrial fibrillation and the patients’ feelings about their disease.
The researchers looked at data on 10,000 German adults; of these, 309 had atrial fibrillation. The investigators then compared the average depression scores for people with atrial fibrillation to the scores of people without the condition.
Depression was measured on a scale of 0 to 27, with higher scores representing more severe depression.
On average, people with atrial fibrillation scored a four, compared to an average score of three among those without atrial fibrillation. In either case, the depression score wouldn’t be enough to warrant treatment.
The researchers did notice that the difference in depression severity was mostly driven by the physical symptoms of depression — aches and pains were more common or intense in people with irregular heartbeats.
The findings support other studies that tie heart disorders with depression.
“It’s consistent with a large and growing literature on the role that depression plays with heart disease,” said Richard Sloan, Ph.D., the Nathaniel Wharton Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University.
“There are a great set of studies, many of which show a much stronger effect,” said Sloan, who was not involved with the new study. He noted that a one-point difference in depression severity wouldn’t be noticeable to an individual. It is also unknown whether one condition leads to the other or if they simply share a common cause, he said.
Screening for and treating depression symptoms might help heart patients feel better physically and possibly even improve their heart conditions, the researchers said.
“It’s a serious matter and should be treated as a serious matter,” he said. “If you’re depressed at any time — whether after heart disease or something else — you should treat it.”
Source: PLOS ONE