Heart failure is a serious medical condition that affects approximately 600,000 people in the United States each year and is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Heart failure means that blood is not being pumped effectively throughout the body; it does not necessarily mean that a heart attack has occurred. It can be caused by a wide range of medical conditions that include blocked arteries, high blood pressure, congenital heart problems, valve defects and diabetes as some of the most common.
Depression is a disorder that affects from 20 to 40 percent of heart patients. About 1 in 6 people overall in the U.S. experience a major depressive episode in their lifetimes. Only about half of the people who have depression seek treatment. This fact, along with the high prevalence of depression in heart patients has led researchers to examine the effects of depression on people who are dealing with heart diseases.
A recent study conducted by the Imperial College London and the University of Hull in England examined the effects of depression on the rate of mortality in heart failure patients. The study evaluated 154 hospital patients, 51 of whom reported mild or moderate to severe depression. Over the course of the following year, 27 of those patients died. In general, about 25 percent of people with heart disease will be readmitted within one month of a hospital stay, and within a year about half of them will have died.
These results suggest that depression can increase the rate of death by up to five times compared to heart patients who don’t suffer from depression. The researchers caution that this does not definitively prove that depression causes death to occur more frequently. There are a number of different factors that may play a role in these findings. Depression can have a profound effect on a patient’s motivation, interest in life and overall sense of wellbeing, factors which could significantly influence the care that a heart patient takes with their health.
The author of the study, John Cleland, is not yet ready to recommend prescribing antidepressants to heart patients who are suffering with depressive symptoms. He notes that some research shows that antidepressant treatments are not very effective for heart patients. He is recommending, however, that practitioners screen their heart patients and refer them for counseling if they are experiencing depressive symptoms.
A great deal more research is needed in order to fully understand the relationship between heart failure and the high mortality rates among depressed patients that were found in this study. Although Cleland’s study did not examine the long-term effects when patients have both anxiety and depression, which is quite common, there is some evidence that the combination of these two disorders pose an even greater risk for heart patients. Patients should talk with their medical team about any concerns and potential ramifications that could affect their overall health and well being.