Patients who suffer depression -- around 50% of those hospitalized and as many as one-fifth of others -- are up to five times more likely to die or experience further heart problems within the next year than others.
SSRIs, such as Celexa (citalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline), are thought to improve mood by preventing nerve cells from reabsorbing serotonin, thus increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter in the brain. Having low levels of serotonin is associated with depression, so "reuptake inhibitors," by keeping more serotonin available to the brain, may relieve depression. These medications are safe for heart patients and work well for many.
According to the Journal study, SSRIs are more effective than interpersonal psychotherapy in improving depression in heart patients.
In the first few weeks of taking an SSRI, patients may actually experience increased anxiety until the the drug is fully effective -- usually in 4 to 6 weeks. Side effects that may last throughout the time the medication is taken include sexual difficulties, nausea and headache.
Some SSRIs, when paired with the antibiotic erythromycin, can increase the risk of irregular heartbeat or sudden death. Make sure the doctor who prescribes your antidepressant has a full list of any other medications you are taking.
How Depression Affects the Cardiovascular System
Controlling depression is critical for heart patients because, unchecked, it can keep the body in a chronic state of emergency preparedness. This has several serious implications:
- Increased hormone levels
- Constricted blood vessels
- Elevated heart rate
Eventually, this constant state of readiness damages blood vessels and desensitizes the heart to indicators that tell it to slow down.
When heart patients conquer depression, it helps decrease their perception of pain, enhances energy, improves socialization and increases their likelihood of quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising and eating right.
Some Harmful Antidepressants
Several antidepressants other than SSRIs can actually be dangerous for those with heart disease:
Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), including Effexor (venlafaxine), may increase blood pressure.
Tricyclics, such as Elavil (amitriptyline), may cause dizziness and elevate heart rate.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), which include Nardil (phenelzine), can cause irregular heartbeat and sharply elevate blood pressure when paired with certain foods.
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