Depression May Be Hidden Risk Factor in Female Heart Attack Deaths

Women age 55 and younger who are moderately or severely depressed are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, die, or require artery-opening procedures, according to researchers at Emory University.

“Women in this age group are also more likely to have depression, so this may be one of the ‘hidden’ risk factors that can help explain why women die at a disproportionately higher rate than men after a heart attack,” said study author Amit J. Shah, M.D., of Emory University

For the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers evaluated symptoms of depression in 3,237 people with known or suspected heart disease (34 percent women, average age 62.5) who were scheduled for coronary angiography, an X-ray that can spot disease in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

After nearly three years of follow-up, researchers found that, in women age 55 and younger, each one point increase in depression symptoms was correlated with a seven percent increase in heart disease. However, in men and older women, there was no correlation between depression symptoms and heart disease.

Also, women age 55 and younger were 2.2 times as likely to suffer a heart attack, die of heart disease, or require an artery-opening procedure during the follow-up period if they had moderate or severe depression. They were also 2.5 times as likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period if they had moderate or severe depression.

“All people, and especially younger women, need to take depression very seriously,” said Shah. “Depression itself is a reason to take action, but knowing that it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death should motivate people to seek help.”

“Health care providers should ask more questions and be aware that young women are especially vulnerable to depression, and that it may increase the risk to their heart,” said Shah.

“Although the risks and benefits of routine screening for depression are still unclear, our study suggests that young women may benefit from special consideration,” said senior study author Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D. “Unfortunately, this group has largely been understudied before.”

The researchers are also investigating whether women experience stronger cardiovascular changes than men due to short-term mental stress, such as giving a public speech.

Source: Emory University