Should patients with coronary heart disease and depression be given antidepressants?

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Patients with coronary heart disease are susceptible to depression and this comorbidity makes cardiovascular outcomes worse.

Using antidepressants to treat depression in patients with other health conditions is sometimes quite controversial.

This meta-analysis looked at the health effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) versus placebo or no antidepressants in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) and depression. Observational studies and randomized controlled trials were found with a decent search. Primary outcomes were readmission for CHD (including myocardial infarction, unstable angina, and stroke) and all-cause mortality; the secondary outcome was severity of depression symptoms.

When only properly randomized trials were considered (n = 734 patients), patients on SSRIs showed no significant differences in mortality (risk ratio 0.39, 95% confidence interval 0.08 to 2.01) or CHD readmission rates (0.74, 0.44 to 1.23) compared to controls.

Conversely, when all studies were included, SSRI use was associated with a significant decrease in CHD readmission (0.63, 0.46 to 0.86) and mortality rates (0.56, 0.35 to 0.88). A significantly greater improvement in depression symptoms was always apparent in patients on SSRIs with all selected indicators.

The authors concluded:

In patients with CHD and depression, SSRI medication decreases depression symptoms and may improve CHD prognosis.

This carefully conducted review shows that there is still only limited evidence for the use of SSRIs in patients with CHD and depression.  There does appear to be a benefit for SSRI therapy in cardiovascular compromised patients regarding death and readmissions.

Perhaps the more interesting finding is the absence of harm in depressed patients with coronary heart disease treated with SSRIs.


Pizzi C, Rutjes AW, Costa GM, Fontana F, Mezzetti A, Manzoli L. Meta-analysis of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in patients with depression and coronary heart disease. Am J Cardiol. 2011 Apr 1;107(7):972-9. Epub 2011 Jan 20. [PubMed abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

Andre Tomlin

André started the Mental Elf website in May 2011. He has worked as an Information Scientist in Mental Health since the late nineties; initially at Oxford University's Centre for Evidence-Based Mental Health and since 2002 as the Managing Director of Minervation Ltd. He loves blogging, social media and elves! He also has established interests in evidence-based healthcare, usability testing and web design.

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