Atrial fibrillation is the most commonly occurring cardiac disorder, currently affecting 2.7 million patients in the United States. The condition causes the upper two chambers of the heart to behave irregularly, causing a decreased ability to pump blood into the lower two chambers of the heart. It can lead to the formation of blood clots due to the pooling of blood in the upper chambers of the heart and eventually causes the potential for a stroke to occur. If left untreated, the condition doubles a patient’s risk of death via heart attack and increases their risk of stroke five times over.
A new study has shown that suffering from depression can be related to an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Recent statistics show that more than 16 million people suffer from depression in the United States alone.
The researchers of the new study gathered their data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) involving more than 6,600 people of different ethnicities. On average, the participants were aged 62 and had no known heart condition at the start of the study.
The median number of years for continued follow up with the researchers after the outset of the MESA study was 13 years. The participants with the highest scores on a clinical screening for depression in addition to those taking antidepressant medications showed a 30 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than those not taking medication or who scored normally on the clinical test.
“Our findings identify a large portion of Americans who may be at an increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation and who may benefit from more targeted efforts to prevent this arrhythmia,” said study lead investigator Parveen Garg, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “If our findings are affirmed in future studies, especially those that formally assess for clinical depression, then we will need to see if treating depression may, in fact, lower the risk for atrial fibrillation.”
The causation behind the link between depression and atrial fibrillation is yet unclear, as the results of this study show only a correlational relationship between the two common medical conditions. Previous research has linked mental health with cardiac health and the findings in this study reinforce this ideology.
The researchers did suggest several potential mechanisms which may be related to depression increasing a patient’s risk of atrial fibrillation. Increased levels of inflammation were one of the suggested causes, as well as the increased levels of certain hormones related to depression which affect the heart’s ability to function normally, either directly or indirectly.
“Clinicians and patients should be aware that depression has been shown in several studies to be a risk factor for heart disease in general and, in this study, for atrial fibrillation as well,” Garg said. “Treating depression is important for many reasons including cardiovascular health.”