HealthDay News — A new study finds that treating moderate to severe depression with antidepressants may have an added bonus: reducing cardiovascular risks.

People who took antidepressants alone had a 53% lower risk of death, coronary artery disease, and stroke over three years than those who did not take antidepressants or statins, according to Heidi May, PhD, MSPH, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City. She and colleagues analyzed health data from 5,311 people in Utah with moderate to severe depression.

Taking a statin, either alone or with antidepressants, did not significantly reduce the risk, the researchers found. The level of depression appeared to be key, May said in an ACC news release. Although antidepressant therapy didn’t seem to boost the heart health of people with little or no depression, it did have an effect on those with more serious depression.

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The study couldn’t prove that the use of antidepressants helped cause a lowering of cardiovascular risks. However, depression is a known risk factor for heart disease, May said.

Her team also did not examine how antidepressants might prevent heart disease. But May theorized that as depressive symptoms ease, people’s behaviors might change in ways that help their hearts.

“For example, people who are having depressive symptoms may not be as inclined to exercise, practice good health habits, or comply with health advice,” she said. “Using an antidepressant to reduce depressive symptoms might also help people better take care of their heart health.”

The findings are scheduled to be presented March 15 at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), held from March 14 to 16 in San Diego. 

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