Depression After A Heart Attack Linked To Changes In The Brain

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Depression after a heart attack is common and is more likely to affect those who have had depression before, particularly women, and those who feel isolated or who do not have adequate support.

For those who do suffer from depression after a heart attack the risk of suffering another heart attack and other health problems increases.

The statistics show that as many as one in three people, who have suffered a heart attack, also suffer from depression afterwards and now a new study may have identified why this might be.

It looks like it could all be down to physiological changes taking place in the brain although the researchers say that more research is required to find out whether the depression itself causes these changes or whether the changes to the brain actually bring about the depression.

What the German researchers found was that after taking into account the existing heart problems and risk factors, depression, and the severity of the depression was linked to changes in the anterior cingulate cortex in the brain.

The Study was conducted by researchers at St Hedwig’s Hospital in Berlin, Germany and was led by Dr Michael A Rapp from the Psychiatric department at the hospital.

What Dr Rapp and his colleagues did was perform brain scans on 22 patients three months after they had suffered a heart attack and then went to look for changes in the cerebral white matter and structural changes in the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex parts of the brain.

Out of the 22 patients who underwent the brain scans, 14 of them were not classed as depressed at the three month point, but the remaining 8 who were, all showed more white matter changes in the brain than the 14 who weren’t depressed.

The interesting thing is that when other cardiovascular risk factors were taken into account, the association between depression and changes in the brain wasn’t there.

“This study provides the first evidence that persistent depressive symptoms after a heart attack are associated with vascular brain changes. Longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether depressive symptoms precede these changes or vice versa,” concluded the researchers.

The findings were published in the April issue of the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

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