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Antidepressants Could Assist Some Heart Patients



Patients who use Lexapro, an antidepressant, appear to have a lower risk of developing a potentially deadly heart condition related to stress referred to as mental stress-induced myocardial ischemia, according to the results of a new study.

While individuals who suffer from this condition may not manifest obvious symptoms, their heart muscles don’t receive an adequate amount of blood, according to researchers at Duke University’s School of Medicine.

However, researchers discovered that individuals taking Lexapro had their risk of suffering from the condition reduced by two and a half times when compared to patients who didn’t take the antidepressant. As the name implies, myocardial ischemia is a condition that can be caused by emotional stress.

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study, which appeared recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A Serious Concern

A serious condition due to its effects on the heart, patients suffering from mental stress-induced myocardial ischemia has more severe heart problems when compared to patients who don’t suffer from the condition. This study marks the first time researchers have shown it’s possible to treat myocardial ischemia with medication designed to improve mood.

To delve into this subject, researchers worked with 310 participants who suffered from heart disease conditions that were currently under control and stable at the time of the study. To determine which participants had a heart condition related to stress, researchers asked individuals involved in the study to undergo a treadmill stress test. Researchers then had each participant undergo a series of mental stress tests that included solving difficult math equations, tracing a star while looking only at their hand’s reflection in a mirror and finally telling a story that made them feel either angry or sad.

As the participants engaged in these various activities, researchers measured their heart rate and blood pressure readings. Based on these testing measures, researchers determined that 127 of the individuals involved in the study had a heart condition related to stress. Participants that fell into this category were asked to take either Lexapro, a medication designed to treat depression and anxiety by adjusting serotonin levels in the brain, or a placebo pill.

Following a six-week trial period, researchers asked the study participants to retake the same stress tests and to have their heart conditions reexamined. Of the original 127 participants who started the trial, 112 completed the study. Researchers discovered that the participants who took Lexapro were nearly three times less likely to develop stress-related cardiovascular problems during the mental stress tests when compared to participants taking the placebo. Individuals who took the antidepressant also seemed more likely to have improved heart function and reported feeling more controlled and calmer when compared to the group who took the placebo.

Needed Relief

After examining their findings, researchers feel confident that the use of such antidepressants as Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa among others could help patients with heart disease manage their conditions. Researchers did caution that more study is needed to determine what the proper dosing of antidepressants should be for patients with heart problems and whether the use of antidepressants could also help patients with similar health conditions, such as heart failure, stroke, angina, or heart attack.