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"We know that depression is common in heart failure and affects 20 to 40 percent of patients," said study author John Cleland, a professor of cardiology at Imperial College London and the University of Hull in England.
Of the 154 patients studied, 27 had mild depression and 24 had moderate to severe depression. Over an average follow-up of 302 days, 27 patients died.
The increased risk of death associated with moderate to severe depression was independent of other health problems and the severity of heart failure, the researchers said.
The study was to be presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology in Seville, Spain. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Heart failure means the heart can't pump blood as well as it should.
About one-quarter of patients hospitalized with heart failure are readmitted for a variety of reasons within one month, Cleland said. "Within one year, most patients will have had one or more readmissions and almost half will have died," he added in a society news release.
"Our results show that depression is strongly associated with death during the year following discharge from hospital after an admission for the exacerbation of heart failure; we expect that the link persists beyond one year," Cleland added.
However, the study did not prove definitively that depression causes an increase in death risk among heart failure patients.
Depression is often related to loss of motivation, loss of interest in everyday activities, sleep disturbances and change in appetite with corresponding weight change, Cleland noted. "This could explain the association we found between depression and mortality," he said.
Despite the findings, Cleland is not in favor of immediately prescribing antidepressants to heart failure patients with depression.
"Studies suggest that they are not effective in reducing depression in patients with heart failure. Clinicians should, however, screen patients with heart failure for depression and consider referring those affected for counseling," he recommended.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, news release, May 23, 2015