Depression predicts heart rhythm abnormalities in heart attack patients

DURHAM, N.C. Duke University Medical Center investigators have found a strong association between depression and the incidence of irregular and rapid beating of the heart's main pumping chambers in patients who have been hospitalized for a heart attack.

This finding is important, the researchers said, because this heart beat irregularity, known as ventricular tachycardia, can be a precursor of sudden cardiac death . Interestingly, the researchers found this association between depression and ventricular tachycardia in patients who were relatively healthy and that the risk of ventricular tachycardia increased with increased levels of depression. The researchers also found a link between anxiety and ventricular tachycardia.

Based on the results of their study, the researchers believe that hospitalized heart attack patients should be evaluated for depression, and those who are found to be clinically depressed should have their heart activity closely monitored.

Ventricular tachycardia, which can be treated with such drugs as beta blockers, occurs whenever ventricles beat more than 100 times in a minute. In some cases, the tachycardia may only last for a few beats; however sustained periods of tachycardia can cause ventricular damage needing immediate attention.

Duke research assistant Patrick Smith presented the results of the Duke analysis March 5, 2005, at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Vancouver. The research was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

"The results of our analysis showed that depression in patients who have been hospitalized for a heart attack can be a significant predictor of ventricular tachycardia," Smith said. "Also, the finding that scores from commonly used tests of depression and anxiety were associated with the frequency of ventricular tachycardia suggests that depression, anxiety and these potentially life-threatening dysrhythmias are connected." <

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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