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Researchers looked at 160 patients in Lithuania who were interviewed at least one month after suffering a heart attack. About one-quarter of the patients were depressed and 28 percent of those had been treated with antidepressants.
Women were more likely than men to have depression and anxiety, and the conditions were more severe in women, according to the findings presented Sunday in Geneva at the annual meeting of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association of the European Society of Cardiology.
Further research is needed to determine why women are more likely than men to develop anxiety and depression after a heart attack, study author Dr. Pranas Serpytis of Vilnius University in Lithuania said in an association news release.
The study showed smokers were more likely to have anxiety after a heart attack than former smokers and those who never smoked. But there was no link between smoking and increased risk of depression after a heart attack, the researchers said.
The study authors also found that physical inactivity was associated with an increased risk of depression after a heart attack.
"The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability and mortality in the world, surpassed only by ischemic heart disease. Major depression follows [heart attack] in approximately 18 percent of cases and is an important predictor of disability and poor quality of life in the year [after a heart attack]," Serpytis said.
Patients with depression are nearly six times more likely to die within six months after a heart attack than those without depression, he added. And the increased risk of death in patients with depression persists up to 18 months after the heart attack, he said. Nevertheless, "the condition remains under-recognized and undertreated," he noted.
Serpytis said women are misrepresented in many clinical studies on heart attack even though they often have worse outcomes.
"Our study shows that women are more likely to develop anxiety and depression after [heart attack] than men but until now this issue has been largely unnoticed," he said. Doctors should assess heart attack patients, particularly women, for anxiety and depression so that timely treatment can be started, he added.
"Our study suggests that encouraging patients to quit smoking and increase their physical activity levels should reduce their risks of anxiety and depression after [heart attack]," he said.
More research is needed on the links between heart attack and mental health problems, Serpytis concluded. Links found in the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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