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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 00:06 GMT
Hardened arteries 'cause depression'
Brain
Researchers found blood vessel damage in the brain
Depression in later life may be caused by hardened arteries, researchers have found.

Depression is predicted to become the second leading cause of disability world-wide by 2020.

Many people believe this is due to the increasingly stressful nature of modern life.


We believe vascular disease contributes to damage and dysfunction in key parts of the brain that causes depression in some people

Dr Alan Thomas, Institute for the Health of the Elderly
But researchers from the Institute for the Health of the Elderly at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne have produced evidence that there may be a physical explanation for the phenomenon.

They believe depression in later life could be linked to narrowing and hardening of the arteries which serve the brain.

The researchers carried out post mortem examinations on the brains of 40 people, of which half had suffered at least one major episode of depression.

Depression is very common among people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

But the researchers found no evidence of either condition in the brain tissue.

However, they did find a lot of evidence of hardening and narrowing in the blood vessels supplying the brain of those who had suffered depression.

Screening

The researchers say that if their findings are confirmed by further studies then it might be sensible to start to screen older people with depression for signs of blood vessel damage.

Depression is common after a heart attack or stroke, and previous research has indicated that depression more than triples the risk of dying within the subsequent six months after a heart attack.

Lead researcher Dr Alan Thomas told BBC News Online the link could not be entirely explained by the fact that cardiovascular disease is a depressing condition from which to suffer.

He said: "There are clear links between depression and such vascular conditions which go beyond the psychological effects of being ill.

"We believe vascular disease contributes to damage and dysfunction in key parts of the brain that causes depression in some people."

A British Heart Foundation spokesperson said: "We have known for some time that a major event such as a heart attack or surgery may lead to depression and that depressed people are more likely to go on and have a second attack.

"Cardiac rehabilitation programmes are a good way to reduce depression and improve the patient's chance of a full recovery.

"So far research hasn't been able to explain how or why depression and heart disease are linked. Perhaps further research will shed light so that treatments can be developed to reduce the incidence of both."

The research is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

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See also:

13 Oct 99 | Health
Depression
10 Oct 00 | Health
Depression may boost heart risk
15 Nov 00 | Health
Laughter 'protects the heart'
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