Depression Linked to Heart Trouble in Older Women

Jun 23, 2004 04:09 AM EDT

A recent study has found that mildly and moderately depressed women are estimated to be 50% more likely to die of heart attacks than other women.

The study, published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, was the first of its kind to track women over time, instead of only studying them after they had had heart attacks.

Examined records of over 93,000 women

The researchers based their findings on results from the Women's Health Initiative, the largest study of U.S. women's health ever undertaken. They examined the medical records of 93,676 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79, following the subjects for an average of four years.

The women were healthy when the research began, and those suffering from untreated severe depression did not participate. Fifteen percent of the women were eventually diagnosed with depression, with symptoms most common in those aged 50 to 59. Symptoms dropped by ages 70 to 79.

50% more likely to die of heart attack

Although their symptoms were mild or moderate—perhaps due to help from antidepressants—the depressed women were 50% more likely to die of a heart attack and 30% more likely to die of other causes. Also, death rates were higher for the depressed women, regardless of whether they smoked or were overweight.

The scientists are uncertain as to why depression may contribute to heart disease. They suggest that depression might boost levels of dangerous inflammation in the body, or it may disrupt the blood's ability to clot properly. Researchers also postulate that depression could be an early warning sign, a "sentinel symptom" that appears before heart disease becomes obvious.


1. S. Wassertheil-Smoller; et al., “Depression and Cardiovascular Sequelae in Postmenopausal Women: The Women's Health Initiative (WHI),” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2004: 164: 289-298