People with an irregular heartbeat may also be at increased
risk of being depressed, suggests a new study from Germany.
The added risk was small, researchers found, but it's in
keeping with other studies linking heart disorders with depression."It's
consistent with a large and growing literature on the role that depression
plays with heart disease," Richard Sloan, who was not involved with the
new study, said.
Sloan is the Nathaniel Wharton Professor of Behavioural
Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New
York. "There are a great set of studies, many of which show a much stronger
effect," he told Reuters Health.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of rhythm disorder
affecting the heart's upper chambers. It can be caused by a number of issues
including heart attacks, infections and heart valve problems. Obesity is a risk
factor for AF, as are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Difference in results
Approximately five million people in the US were diagnosed
with AF in 2010. That number is expected to grow to about 12 million new cases
per year by 2030, according to one recent study. Doctors have long known that
patients' mental state can affect how well they take care of themselves, follow
treatment instructions and how they perceive the burden of their illnesses.
Dr Renate Schnabel, from the University Heart Centre in
Hamburg, and her fellow researchers wanted to see if depression might affect
the course of atrial fibrillation and patients' feelings about their disease.
Schnabel's team used data on 10 000 German adults for the
new study. Most did not have AF, but 309 did.
The researchers compared the average depression scores for
people with AF to the scores of people without the condition. Depression was
measured on a scale of zero to 27, with higher scores indicating more severe depression.
On average, people with AF scored a four, compared to an
average score of three among those without the irregular heartbeat. In either
group's case, the score wouldn't be enough to warrant treatment for depression.
Sloan said a one-point difference in depression severity
wouldn't be noticeable to an individual. The study also can't answer whether
one condition leads to the other or if they simply share a common cause, he
Schnabel and her colleagues did find that the difference in
depression severity they saw was mostly driven by the physical symptoms of
depression, such as aches and pains, being more common or intense in people
with irregular heartbeats.
Screening for and treating depression symptoms might help
heart patients to feel better physically and potentially even improve their
heart conditions, the researchers write in PLoS
Sloan said cardiologists have learned that depression is a
condition they should look for and possibly refer their patients for
treatment. "It's a serious matter and should be treated as a serious
matter," he said. "If you're depressed at any time – whether after
heart disease or something else – you should treat it."