A prospective study published in the December issue of "Circulation" analyzing the relationship between depression and myocardial infarction (MI) found that, after adjusting for age, gender, smoking and certain medical histories, people who have suffered major depression may have up to a four-fold increased risk for heart attack over those who have never been depressed. Researchers interviewed almost 2,000 residents of East Baltimore in 1981 and then again in 1994. The correlation between depressive episodes and heart attacks emerged when the rate of MIs among the 1994 interviewees who were depressed in 1981was compared with the rate of MIs in those who were not depressed.
According to study lead author Laura Pratt, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the study has several ramifications. "The results of this study may change the way primary care practitioners think about depression. Now, when physicians are evaluating a patient's risk of MI, along with the other risk factors -- such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure -- they'll know to take a history of depression into account. If there is a history of depression, physicians can help their patients seek treatment. Treating the depression might be important not only in improving a patient's quality of life, but important for the health of the heart as well."
There has been past speculation that medicines taken for depression may have contributed to the potential for heart attacks. "Our data suggest that it is depression that causes risk for MI, not medications, " said principal investigator William Eaton, PhD, professor, Mental Hygiene, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.