It is common for people who have suffered a heart attack (myocardial infarction [MI]) to become depressed. Quality of life, physical health, and income can be drastically affected. Surviving a heart attack can require that people change many things about their previous way of life. Giving up things that they enjoyed, whether they were good or bad, can lead to isolation, sadness, and even depression. The negative effects of depression can exacerbate health conditions that result from the heart attack and can put additional stress on the body. Many studies have suggested that depressive symptoms after MI can increase the risk of premature death. But until recently, few studies have looked specifically at the onset and persistence of depressive symptoms following MI as a predictor of mortality. Sidsel Bekke-Hansen of the Department of Psychology at Aarhus University in Denmark sought to address this issue in a recent study. She examined 2,442 MI patients who had developed depression and examined them for levels of somatic versus cognitive depression immediately following the heart attack and again 12 months later.
The results of the study revealed that cognitive depression did not increase premature death in the participants. The study also showed that somatic depression that developed within weeks of the MI was not predictive of mortality. But somatic symptoms of depression that were persistent at 12 months follow-up directly increased the risk of cardiac premature death. Additionally, somatic symptoms of depression that were present 1 year after MI also increased the risk for overall mortality, regardless of the cause. Bekke-Hansen believes the findings of her study demonstrate the importance of interventions aimed at decreasing depressive symptoms in patients recovering from a heart attack. She notes that treatments should be focused on addressing the somatic symptoms and should be offered for durations of at least 6 months in order to reduce the chance of symptom persistence. Bekke-Hansen added, “Although psychosocial interventions aimed at cognitive symptoms of depression are not likely to improve post-MI prognosis, quality of life independent of cardiovascular prognosis may be enhanced by such interventions through improved mood and psychosocial functioning.”
Bekke-Hansen, S., Trockel, M., Burg, M. M., Barr Taylor, C. (2012). Depressive symptom dimensions and cardiac prognosis following myocardial infarction: Results from the ENRICHD clinical trial. Psychological Medicine 42.1, 1-60.
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