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Can early depression treatment reduce risk of heart disease?

May 25, 2011
by News release
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Can early depression treatment reduce the risk of heart disease? That's what Jesse Stewart, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and an Indiana University Center for Aging Research affiliated scientist, will try to find out.
Stewart has received a $110,000 grant from the American Heart Association to explore whether treatment of depression before one experiences a heart attack can reduce the likelihood of future heart disease. The research study, "Beating the Blues for Your Heart," commences this spring. The study will be the first to evaluate whether pre-heart attack treatment of depression can reduce dysfunction in the arteries, thus lowering risk of heart disease in the future. Like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, depression is a risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death of American adults.

"Evidence, including our own past research, strongly suggests that depression is an independent risk factor for heart disease. A depressed individual is at greater risk for a future heart attack than someone who is not depressed. Our goal is to treat depression before it contributes to a heart attack," said Stewart, a clinical health psychologist.

Stewart and colleagues will conduct a pilot study of 30 primary care patients with depression who are free of heart disease. Half will receive standard treatment and the other half will receive eight weeks of an evidence-based computerized treatment for depression called Beating the Blues®, used by England's National Health Service. Artery function will be measured using ultrasound before and after treatment as an indicator of risk of future heart disease.

"If earlier treatment of depression, with a computerized therapy which can be confidentially and inexpensively administered anywhere at a time that is convenient for the patient, effectively reduces heart disease risk as we hypothesize, this information will provide a new treatment option that could be considered along with treatments for traditional risk factors, such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol," said Stewart.

The results of this pilot study and a subsequent large-scale definitive clinical trial that Stewart and colleagues hope to conduct will give physicians another important tool to consider in the prevention of heart attacks.

"Decreasing risk of ever having a heart attack by changing clinical practice to include depression treatment should significantly reduce disability and death from heart disease," said Stewart.

Collaborating with Stewart on the AHA-supported pilot study are Christopher M. Callahan, M.D. of the IU School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute, who directs the IU Center for Aging Research, Samir K. Gupta, M.D., M.S. of the IU School of Medicine, and John K. Martin, Ph.D. of Ultrasis, the company that created the Beating the Blues program. The School of Science, the IU School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute are located on the IUPUI campus. The School of Science at IUPUI is committed to excellence in teaching, research and service in the biological, physical, behavioral and mathematical sciences. The School is dedicated to being a leading resource for interdisciplinary research and science education in support of Indiana's effort to expand and diversify its economy.

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