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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Depression may boost heart risk
Nurse treating heart patient
The survey found that depression could lead to heart disease
People who suffer from depression symptoms are far more likely to fall ill with heart disease, a major research paper suggests.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, is the strongest evidence yet that psychological as well as physical changes can influence coronary heart disease.

Over six years, researchers from several hospitals looked at people over the age of 65, none of whom were initially showing signs of heart disease.

Their conclusions are that while depression is not necessarily a cause of the illness, there is a strong suggestion that it may help doctors predict which elderly people will develop heart disease.

Depressive symptoms are not simply feeling miserable, but can include feelings of fear, loneliness irritability or lack of concentration, and even sleeplessness.

The research teams looked at almost 4,500 elderly people and, during a 90 minute home interview, graded their level of depression using the same scale, giving them points for every depressive symptom.

While the scores ranged from zero to 30, a score greater than eight was seen by doctors as a sign that the person was at risk of clinical depression.

Depression first

Every increase of five in the score was associated with a 15% increase in the risk of getting coronary heart disease.

Those who reported feelings of depression most often were 40% more likely to develop the illness than those with the fewest signs of depression.

And because none of the elderly people actually had symptoms of heart trouble at the start of the exercise, it is unlikely that heart problems could have sparked the depression.

Complaints are dismissed by GPs who fail to investigate properly and simply tell people they're suffering from a panic attack

MIND

But, according to mental health charity, MIND, there is a real problem with people suffering from depression not being taken seriously by their GPs when they report physical symptoms.

A study by the charity found that one third of people with depression felt that they had been badly treated or misdiagnosed by their GP.

"We find that complaints are dismissed by GPs who fail to investigate properly and simply tell people they're suffering from a panic attack or stress," a spokeswoman said.

Risk exposure

There are several reasons why depression might expose people to more cardiac risk.

Elderly people with these feelings are less likely to take exercise, and more likely to smoke or eat badly.

Mental stress is thought to increase the formation of plaques on the side of blood vessels, which can lead to blocking of vital arteries.

Dr Curt Furberg, who led the study, said: "We have shown an association, but the next step is whether treatment will stave off or slow the progression of heart disease."

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