Link between depression and heart disease could mean new treatments

Researchers have established a link between depression and major heart disease and suggest combining drugs used to treat the conditions separately can be an effective way to prevent cardiomyopathy.

Scientists have known there was a link between depression and your likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, and in particular coronary artery disease (CAD).

According to the Heart Foundation, about 15 per cent of myocardial infarction (heart attack) patients in Australia also suffer from depression. Internationally, the situation is even worse with the US National Institute of Health estimating as many as 44 per cent of CAD patients have also been diagnosed with major depression.

But it hasn’t been clear whether it was depression causing these people’s hearts to deteriorate, or a faulty heart leading to depression symptoms.

A new study from researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre suggests that it may be neither. Their report demonstrates their may be a third biological component at play causing both conditions: inflammation.

How does inflammation cause those two conditions?

According to the researchers, changes in the levels of inflammatory markers have been observed in both conditions, suggesting that there may be a common biological pathway linking neuroinflammation in depression with atherosclerotic inflammation in CAD.

In their study, the researchers used a technique called transcriptome-wide association scanning to map genetic variations involved in regulating the expression of genes associated with both CAD and depression.

The scans identified 185 genes that were significantly associated with both conditions, and which had been ‘enriched’ by the body for biological roles in inflammation and cardiomyopathy.

The researchers say this suggests that having a predisposition to both depression and CAD, which the researchers called (major) depressive CAD, or (m)dCAD, may further predispose individuals to cardiomyopathy.

“This work suggests that chronic low-level inflammation may be a significant contributor to both depression and cardiovascular disease,” says Professor Lea Davis, co-author of the study.

What does this finding mean for treatment?

Going a step further, the research team also believes people at risk of (m)dCAD may be able to reduce their risk of cardiomyopathy by combining drugs used to treat depression and CAD.

They came to this conclusion after analysis of public health records showed that despite being at higher risk, the actual incidence of cardiomyopathy in patients with the enriched genes for (m)dCAD was lower than in patients with CAD alone.

The researchers believe one possible explanation for this effect is the combination of antidepressants with medications for CAD, such as statins, may be blocking cardiomyopathy from developing by limiting inflammation.

“More research is needed to investigate optimal treatment mechanisms,” says Prof. Davis.

“But at a minimum this work suggests that patient heart and brain health should be considered together when developing management plans to treat depression or cardiovascular disease.”

How has your heart health been recently? Have you noticed any connection to your mental health? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Call to reinstate full Medicare rebates for ECGs

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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