For heart disease patients, depression takes heavy toll

Heart disease patients suffering from depression showed more impairment in their ability to work, socialize, and perform other daily activities than patients who were not depressed, a new study conducted by scientists from the University of Washington, Seattle shows.

The scientists believe depression decreases heart disease patients' ability to function on a daily basis by amplifying their heart disease symptoms and reducing patients' interest in daily activities.

"Since coronary disease ranks behind only musculoskeletal disorders in producing activity limitations and work disability, it is important to monitor patients with coronary disease for both minor and major depression," says Mark Sullivan, M.D., head of the study.

"There has been some debate in the psychiatric literature about whether all minor depression merits treatment," says Sullivan. "Our study suggests that minor depression may be particularly important in patients who have a concurrent medical illness."

The researchers followed 157 patients with newly diagnosed coronary artery disease confirmed by angiography. Shortly after diagnosis, nurses interviewed the patients about their symptoms of depression and other mental illness as well as their ability to work and perform other daily activities. These assessments were repeated one year later.

Sullivan and his colleagues found that patients with both major and minor depression were functioning less well one year after diagnosis than were nondepressed patients. Depressed patients also reported more heart disease symptoms. These findings held even after the investigators controlled for the severity of patients' heart disease. The results of the study appear in the July-August issue of Psychosomatics.

Support for the study came from the American Heart Association, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Brookdale Foundation.


Contact: Mark Sullivan, M.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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