Depression and Heart Disease Are Linked Via Inflammation, Study Says

Researchers suggest that inflammation associated with depression and coronary artery disease may increase the chance of a person developing cardiomyopathy. However, treatments for both conditions may reduce these heart risks.

Research suggests that people with depression may have a 72% higher risk of heart disease, and these mental health-related heart risks may impact women more than men.

Previously, the mechanisms behind the link between depression and cardiovascular disease were unclear.

Now, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital have found that the two conditions are linked by inflammation pathways, which may be associated with the development of cardiomyopathy or the degeneration of heart muscle.

For the study, published on April 5 in Nature Mental Health, the scientists used a specialized scanning technique to map genetic variations that help regulate gene expression associated with coronary artery disease and depression.

The team found 185 genes linked to both conditions that play roles in inflammation and heart muscle degeneration. This could mean that people with these genes may be more likely to have both coronary artery disease and depression and a higher risk of cardiomyopathy.

Still, after analyzing health record data, the team found that the incidence of cardiomyopathy in people with these genes was lower than those only diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

The researchers suggest that the lower incidence of cardiomyopathy among people with enhanced genes may be the result of medication to treat both conditions, such as antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering drugs. The team says that these treatments may help reduce inflammation and prevent heart muscle degeneration.

In a Vanderbilt press release, corresponding author Lea Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Genetic Medicine and Vanderbilt Genetics Institute, said, "More research is needed to investigate optimal treatment mechanisms, but at a minimum this work suggests that patient heart and brain health should be considered together when developing management plans to treat depression or cardiovascular disease."

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