Dora Calott Wang, M.D.

Dora Calott Wang M.D.

The Kitchen Shrink


Can We Really Die of a Broken Heart?

Depression Quadruples Risk of Heart Disease

Posted May 18, 2015

            Poets and songwriters have explored emotions and the heart, since the term “heartache” was coined by William Shakespeare. 

            Medical research now shows that indeed, depression raises the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and even mortality.

            Steven Roose, MD, reviewed twenty years of medical research on depression and heart disease in his talk, “Death, Depression and Heart Disease,” before an overflowing auditorium at the American Psychiatric Association annual convention in Toronto, Canada, on May 16, 2015.    

            Persons who are depressed, are 4 to 4.5 times as likely to develop heart disease, according to Roose, drawing upon evidence from thirteen studies which included over 40,000 persons.  Depression quadruples the risk of coronary artery disease, he stated.  Even “subsyndromic”, or milder depression, increases the risk by 1.5 to 2-fold. 

            Roose reviewed data from a landmark 1995 study by Nancy Frasure-Smith, PhD.  Six months after a myocardial infarction, 3 percent of non-depressed persons died, compared to 16.5 percent of deaths among the depressed.   Eleven studies altogether confirm that depression is a major factor for death following a myocardial infarction.

            As possible causes, it is well established that depression increases inflammation, now known to be a major factor in heart disease.  Also well established, is that depression increases the likelihood of blood clots and cardiac arrhythmias.  Depression can also contribute to lack of adherence to doctor orders concerning medications, appointments, exercise and diet.

            Ending on a note of optimism, Roose speculated that treatment for depression could mitigate the above cardiac risks. 

            According to the SADHART study (Safety and Efficacy of Sertraline in Depressed Patients Hospitalized for MI or Unstable Angina) published in 2002, the antidepressant sertraline was safe in cardiac patients, and significantly decreased the incidence of:  heart failure, increased angina, stroke, myocardial infarction, and yes, death.   

            Medical research increasingly shows that one can indeed die of a broken heart.