Effectively treating depression can reduce a patient’s chances of stroke, heart failure, heart attack, or death to the same risk level as those who never had depression, according to findings presented at the 2016 American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session and Expo in Chicago.

“Our study shows that prompt, effective treatment of depression appears to improve the risk of poor heart health,” Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist with the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, said in a statement.

While depression is known to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the risk of cardiovascular disease as a person’s depression improves or worsens had previously remained unknown.

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“With the help of past research, we know depression affects long-term cardiovascular risks, but knowing that alleviating the symptoms of depression reduces a person’s risk of heart disease in the short term, too, can help care providers and patients commit more fully to treating the symptoms of depression,” she said. “The key conclusion of our study is: If depression isn’t treated, the risk of cardiovascular complications increases significantly.”

To study the relationship between depression treatment and cardiovascular risk, researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City examined data from 7550 patients from the Intermountain Healthcare’s depression registry who had completed at least 2 depression questionnaires over the course of 1 to 2 years. Patients were an average age of 57±12 years, and 70% were women. The researchers grouped the data into those with no depression, those who were no longer depressed, those who remained depressed, and those who became depressed.

The researchers found that the frequency of major adverse cardiac events was 4.8% among those with no depression, 4.6% among those who were no longer depressed, 6.0% among those who remained depressed, and 6.4% among those who became depressed.

These findings indicate that effective treatment for depression reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems in the short term, but Dr May noted that further study is needed to identify what the treatment should include.

“What we’ve done thus far is simply observe data that has previously been collected,” Dr May said. “In order to dig deeper, we need do a full clinical trial to fully evaluate what we’ve observed.”

It is difficult to determine whether depression leads to risk factors associated with cardiovascular events (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or lack of exercise), or if it’s the other way around. The findings from this study indicate that changes in depression symptoms may cause immediate physiological changes in the body that can cause major cardiac events in the short term, but further research is needed to explore these questions further.


May HT, Brunisholz K, Horne B, et al. Can Effective Treatment of Depression Reduce Future Cardiovascular Risk? Presented at: 2016 American College of Cardiology (ACC) 65th Annual Scientific Session and Expo. April 2-4, 2016; Chicago, Illinois.