Women under age 55 with suspected heart problems are twice as likely to have a heart attack, require artery-opening procedures or die if they also have depression, according to a new study.
“We can’t prove with this study that depression causes heart disease, but we can say that these women do worse over time,” lead author Dr. Amit Shah, from Emory University in Atlanta, told Reuters Health.
In general, depressed people are more likely to have heart problems than people without depression, but the exact increase in risk has varied in previous studies, he and his colleagues write. They suspected some of that variation was because the effect of depression might differ in different groups of people.
For their study, the researchers looked at more than 3,000 people who were scheduled for cardiac catheterization procedures to diagnose coronary artery disease or some other suspected heart problem. Coronary artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
The researchers gave the patients a questionnaire to evaluate their depression symptoms before the procedure. Scoring 10 points or higher out of a possible 27 indicates at least moderate depression.
Two of the researchers examined the results of the catheterizations and noted whether the patients appeared to have coronary artery disease, and if so, how severe it was.
Over the next roughly three years, Shah’s team kept tabs on the patients’ health with telephone interviews and hospital admission data.
The patients were in their early 60s, on average, and a third were female. The researchers divided patients into three age groups: under 55, 56 to 64 and over 65.
Almost 30 percent of the women 55 or younger had moderate to severe depression, according to the questionnaires, compared to nine percent of men 65 and older.
For the group as a whole, depression was not associated with the chance of coronary artery disease showing up on the heart exams. But when the researchers focused on particular groups of patients, there was a connection in the younger group of women.
For every one-point increase on the 27-point depression scale, their likelihood of having coronary artery disease increased by seven percent.
Over the following three years, depression was linked with a higher risk of death and major heart problems. The association was strongest for women age 55 and under and for men 65 and over, the authors report in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“In that group (of