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Depression and atherosclerosis (3-5-2007) 


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Depression appears to increase the development of blood vessel plaques, known as atherosclerosis, a condition that can lead to heart attack, stroke, and a host of other cardiovascular problems, according to a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Patients' psychological status influence quality of life, and may also have a "significant impact" on their physical status, including cardiovascular health, Dr. Jesse C. Stewart, from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, told Reuters Health.

Stewart and colleagues evaluated the contribution of depression, anxiety, and anger to atherosclerosis among 324 men and women between 50 and 70 years old.

Symptom scoring tests evaluated the presence of depression, anxiety and anger, while the extent of atherosclerosis was accessed using an imaging test, which measured the thickness of the walls of the carotid arteries, major blood vessels in the neck that carry oxygen to the brain.

Depressive symptoms were associated with plaque build-up during the 3-year study, the authors report, whereas anxiety and anger symptoms seemed to be unrelated.

Increased daily alcohol intake was associated with greater changes in plaque build-up, the researchers note, whereas the use of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, including Zoloft and Prozac, was associated with smaller changes.

"Taken together," the investigators conclude, "our results indicate that depression, but perhaps not anxiety and hostility/anger, may be involved in the initiation and/or progression of atherosclerosis."
"Further studies examining multiple negative emotions could lead to the identification of the particular aspects of negative emotions that have a deleterious effect on cardiovascular health," Stewart added. "Identifying these harmful aspects could lead to...the development of more focused and perhaps potent interventions specifically designed to target the harmful aspects of negative emotions."

SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, February 2007