A new study has found that treating depression is more effective than prescribing statins in reducing the risk of heart disease in patients with moderate to severe depression.
For the study, researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City analyzed the health records and rates of death, coronary artery disease, and stroke of more than 26,000 patients treated over a three-year period.
Patients completed a nine-question depression screening questionnaire, which assessed factors such as mood, sleep, and appetite, to determine their level of depressive symptoms. Based on the questionnaires, the researchers identified 5,311 patients as having moderate to severe depression and 21,517 patients as having no to mild depression.
The researchers discovered that patients with moderate to severe depression who took antidepressants alone had a lower risk of death, coronary artery disease, and stroke than patients with moderate to severe depression who did not take antidepressants or statin medications.
The researchers also found that taking statins alone or in combination with antidepressants was not associated with a significant reduction in risk for these patients.
“Antidepressants were not associated with a reduced cardiovascular risk in people with little or no depression, but in moderately to severely depressed people, antidepressants were shown to significantly improve cardiovascular outcomes,” said the study’s lead author Heidi May, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., a cardiovascular epidemiologist.
Patients with moderate to severe depression who were taking antidepressants alone had a 53 percent lower risk of dying, developing coronary artery disease, or having a stroke during the three-year follow-up period as compared to patients with moderate to severe depression who were not taking antidepressants or statins, according to the study’s findings.
Additionally, moderately to severely depressed patients taking antidepressants alone appeared to fare better than those taking statins alone or a combination of statins and antidepressants, although these relationships were not directly analyzed, the researchers noted.
“We thought we’d see an additive effect — that taking both medications would lower the risk more than either drug alone — but we found that in the more depressed people, the antidepressant really was what made the biggest difference,” May said.
“Focus is usually placed more on traditional cardiovascular risk factors and unfortunately, depression is often overlooked. This study adds to the evidence that, when used properly, antidepressants can improve cardiovascular outcomes among those with depressive symptoms.”
While the study didn’t evaluate how antidepressants decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease, May said she believes the link could be related to behavioral changes.
“Antidepressants might have relevant physiological benefits, but I also think the behavioral changes that improve a person’s mood can also improve cardiovascular health,” May said.
“This study demonstrates the importance of evaluating patients for depression, not only in terms of improving their mood, but reducing their risk for heart disease.”
May added that future studies could help to further refine our understanding of the relationships between depression, antidepressants, and cardiovascular health.
Source: Intermountain Medical Center