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Study offers insights into how depression may harm the heart

New findings in the journal Psychophysiology suggest that depressed patients' diminished ability to recover from stress may increase their risk of heart disease. During the study (subscription required), nearly 700 participants were asked to undergo a stress test to measure their fight-or-flight response. Volunteers were on average 60 years old, and five percent were diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. Researchers recorded individuals' heart rate and blood pressure during testing and then compared the recovery heart rates and blood pressure levels between depressed and non-depressed subjects.

The results showed that depressed individuals had a slower recovery time after exercise, suggesting that they may be at a greater risk of a heart attack. Senior author Simon Bacon, PhD, explained the findings in a release. He said:

Heart rate recovery from exercise is one way to measure the fight or flight stress response. The delayed ability to establish a normal heart rate in the depressed individuals indicates a dysfunctional stress response. We believe that this dysfunction, can contribute to their increased risk for heart disease.

The take-home message of this study is that health care professionals should not only address the mental disorder, but also the potential for heart disease in patients who are suffering from major depression. Both of these health issues should be treated to minimize risk of severe consequences.

Previously: Study shows depression may raise young adults' risk of dying from heart disease, CDC report shows depression rates higher in the Southeastern United States, Why are women more likely to need mental-health help? and Some 4.9 million Californians need help for mental health
Photo by Michael Clesle

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