Depression, Anxiety, and the Cardiovascular System: The Psychiatrist's Perspective

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It is becoming clear that the comorbidity of depression and cardiovascular disease does not occur by chance but rather is an inevitable consequence of the relationship between the conditions. Depression in patients with cardiovascular disease is a significant risk factor for developing symptomatic and fatal ischemic heart disease. Moreover, depressed patients have a higher than expected rate of sudden cardiovascular death. Therefore, appropriate treatment of patients with depression and cardiovascular disease cannot be restricted to considerations of either depression or cardiovascular disease in isolation. The tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have various effects on the cardiovascular system, including Type IA antiarrhythmic activity that has been associated with an increased risk of mortality in post–myocardial infarction patients. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are not associated with adverse cardiac effects. The SSRI paroxetine was compared with a therapeutic level of the TCA nortriptyline in a randomized, controlled study and demonstrated a benign cardiovascular profile, while the TCA induced a significantly higher rate of serious adverse cardiovascular events. On the basis of this favorable cardiovascular profile, the SSRIs should therefore be the preferred choice for the treatment of most patients with comorbid depression and cardiovascular disease. Investigation of putative pathophysiologic mechanisms linking depression and cardiovascular mortality, such as the role of platelet activation, will form the basis for further investigation of antidepressant treatments in order to establish if the antidepressants have a beneficial effect on the prognosis of cardiovascular diseases.

J Clin Psychiatry 2001;62(suppl 8):19-22