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MESA Preliminary Research―Depression Linked to A-Fib

Updated 12:30 pm About 20% of U.S. adults report depressive symptoms. A new study reports those adults may be at higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation. That’s according to a new observational study from the U.S. Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).

The MESA Study

P.K Garg, MD

Dr. Parveen Garg of the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, described his preliminary research findings at a Scientific Session at the Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health in March 2018.

The analysis included 6,644 adults (mean age, 62; 53% women, 38% white, 28% black, 22% Hispanic, 12% Chinese-American) with no known heart disease at baseline who were followed for a median of 13 years as part of the MESA study.

Clinically depressed patients had a 34% higher risk of developing A-Fib during follow-up. Similarly, individuals taking anti-depressants had a 36% increased risk of developing A-Fib compared to those not taking those drugs.

What is the Link Between Depression & A-Fib?

G. Tomaselli MD

Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said this study “affirms the association between depression and atrial fibrillation in a population that I think is important because it’s a mixed population and not just the standard Caucasian population.”

Speaking of a possible link, Dr. Tomaselli continued: “We don’t know whether treatment of depression will reduce the incidence of atrial fibrillation. There is some reason to think that it might, but there are other reasons to think that anti-depressant drugs actually have some effects on the heart, the ion channels that determine the rhythm of the heart.”

Dr. Garg could only speculate on the possible link between depression and A-Fib. But he stressed how important it might be to treat people with depression to reduce their risk of developing A-Fib.

The study, “Depressive Symptoms and Risk of Incident Atrial Fibrillation: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis,” was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions March 27, 2018.

What Patients Need to Know

Depression an Illness That Triggers A-Fib? Should depression be added to the list of causes, triggers, illnesses, or comorbidities which may lead to A-Fib? In addition to sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, we should probably add depression, according to this study. Depressed people have a 34% higher risk of developing A-Fib.
Anti-depressant Drugs May Trigger A-Fib: But the drugs used to combat depression may be the reason people develop A-Fib in the first place. In this study, people taking antidepressants had a 36% increased risk of having A-Fib.
For people with depression, this study raises more questions than answers.

It’s obviously important to treat people with depression to reduce their risk of developing A-Fib. But at the same time, we have to be very careful with the drugs used to combat depression. Do anti-depressants bring on or trigger A-Fib? Much more research needs to be done to answer this question.

Resources for this article
Brooks, Megan. Depression Linked to Increased Risk of Developing Atrial Fibrillation. Managed Health Care. March 27, 2018.

Gingerich, CP. Depression Increases Risk of Common Arrhythmia. MD Magazine, March 22, 2018.

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