March 13 (UPI) -- Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah have found depression doubles the long-term risk of death after heart disease diagnosis.
"Our study shows that it doesn't matter if depression emerges in the short term or a few years down the road -- it's a risk factor that continually needs to be assessed," Heidi May, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, said in a press release. "I think the take-home message is that patients with coronary disease need to be continuously screened for depression, and if found to be depressed, they need to receive adequate treatment and continued follow-up."
For the study, researchers analyzed health records from nearly 25,000 Intermountain Healthcare patients over a 10-period following a diagnosis of coronary heart disease. Researchers found about 15 percent of patients received a follow-up diagnosis of depression, significantly higher compared to the 7.5 to 10 percent diagnosed with depression in the general population.
Of 3,646 with a follow-up diagnosis of depression, roughly 50 percent died during the study period compared to 38 percent of the 20,491 who did not have depression.
"The majority of studies evaluating depression following a heart disease event have occurred within 30 days of the event," May said. "We sought to determine if the risk of all-cause mortality associated with depression varies with time between the diagnosis of heart disease and a follow-up depression diagnosis."
Researchers adjusted for age, gender, heart attack, chest pain, medications, follow-up complications, and other risk factors and diseases, but results still showed depression was the strongest predictor of death.
May and her team were not anticipating the results they found.
"I thought depression would be significant, but not the most significant predictor," May said. "It can be devastating to be diagnosed with coronary artery disease. Clinicians need to pay attention to the things their patients are expressing, in term of both physical symptoms as well as emotional and nonverbal factors."
The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 66th Annual Scientific Session March 17 in Washington, D.C.