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Link Shown Between Atrial Fibrillation and Depression in Adults

Patients with an irregular heartbeat may be at an increased risk of depression, according to a German study published in PLOS ONE.

Researchers examined 10,000 German adults, 309 of whom had atrial fibrillation (AF). Nearly half (49.4%) of the study group were women; mean age of participants was 56 ± 11 years. Depression was assessed on a scale of zero to 27, with 27 being the most severe, using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ). Generally, patients with AF scored a four and those without an irregular heartbeat scored a three. Neither score is high enough to warrant treatment for depression. 

“In our large population-based sample, we could demonstrate a slightly higher burden of depressive symptoms in individuals with AF driven by somatic symptom dimensions independent of age, sex and classical cardiovascular risk factors,” the researchers wrote. Somatic depressive symptoms were classified as problems with sleep, fatigability, appetite, and psychomotor agitation/retardation. Depression was associated with a worse perception of one’s physical or mental health status.

Previous smaller studies indicated that AF is frequently accompanied by depressive symptoms that may disrupt physical activity and/or quality of life in patients. The researchers aimed to gather more data surrounding specific AF patient populations.

The researchers also concluded that AF patients living without a current partnership had a more prominent history of depression and self rated poor mental health status. At the conclusion of their study, they urged cardiologists to look for depression in their patients and refer them for treatment.

“It's consistent with a large and growing literature on the role that depression plays with heart disease,” Richard Sloan, PhD, the Nathaniel Wharton Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, told Reuters. He also said that there are existing studies that show an even stronger correlation between AF and depression. Sloan was not involved with the German study.
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