Study finds link between depression and heart failure

NATIONWIDE (NBC) - Depression increases the risk of heart failure in patients with heart disease according to a first-of-its-kind study by cardiac researchers at Utah's Intermountain Medical Center.

Results could now change the way clinicians evaluate and treat patients diagnosed with heart disease.

Barbara Jo Heiner is celebrating an anniversary.

A year ago she got a heart transplant that finally ended more than 15 months of physical and psychological stress associated with her heart disease.

"I think that maybe, maybe they have diagnosed it wrong. I was definitely in denial," she said. "Really did start feeling like something was really, really wrong. I wasn't going to be able to go on my cruise with my grandchildren, and that's when I really started feeling depressed."

Epidemiological researchers at Intermountain Medical Center have now documented an increased risk of heart failure in patients who develop depression subsequent to their diagnosis of heart disease.

"We found that there was a 50 percent increase in risk with patients with heart disease to develop heart failure," said Dr. Heidi May, an epidemiological researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center.

Though not all these heart patients experience depression, it happens enough to show up statistically significant among the 13,000 singled out for the study.

Dr. May says even when antidepressant drugs were used, they didn't appear to lower the risk factor.

"It would be natural to think that a reduction in depressive symptoms would be associated with a decreased risk, but we didn't find a risk change between those with depression on or off antidepressants," she said.

In fact, antidepressants may not be able to alter the risks of heart failure even when the drugs reduce the symptoms of the depression.

Dr. May says more studies are needed to identify possible links between the two disorders and what clinicians should do to help their patients.