Heart Medicine: Is It Making You Depressed?

image of physician in hospital scrubs and with stethoscope

By Dena Leichnitz


A recent study has recently come forth declaring that certain heart medications can lead to depression. However, it was not just heart medications but other medicines such as birth control pills and ACE inhibitors.  However, even doctors are uncertain if we are talking about which came first – the chicken or the egg in this kind of scenario.

Very few people go out and celebrate having heart disease, therefore the disease itself and its resulting complications may play a bigger role in the occurrence of depression than the medications but it is something to look into if you are diagnosed with heart disease or taking birth control pills and suddenly find yourself depressed.

The study came from the Journal of American Medical Association and within the study there were 26,192 participants.  According to that study: The overall estimated prevalence of use of medications with depression as an adverse effect was 37.2%.

NPR’s Allison Aubrey stated in her report: “More than 200 common medications sold in the U.S. include depression as a potential side effect. Sometimes, the risk stems from taking several drugs at the same time. Now, a new study finds people who take these medicines are, in fact, more likely to be depressed.”

Various forms of medicine

Medicines are supposed to make us well. To help us deal with serious diseases we may be facing. What happens though when those medicines not only lead to depression but suicidal thoughts? At that point we have to rethink how we prescribe medication to people especially if they take more than one. We all remember the frenzy that surrounded Ritalin when we found out it caused suicidal thoughts in our young people who had ADHD,  but no one thought the problem was as expansive as this. Some of it seems quite logical because medications like birth control deal with hormones and therefore it makes sense it would impact your emotions.

Professor David Taylor from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society had this to say about the possible correlation between the medication and depression: For example, with oral contraceptives there is a clear association between hormone levels and mood. But in others, like heart medication, it is trickier to unpick whether it’s the drugs or the condition that might be causing the depression, he says.

Picture of the human heart

Because heart disease is a generic term for a various of heart problems, you can have more than just one problem affecting your heart: From tachy-brady syndrome (which is when your heart goes too fast at some points (tachy) and slow (brady) at other times.) or complete heart block (which when your atrium and ventricle stop talking to each other. So one of them is going really fast and the other one is going really slow) then we have A-fib(short for Atrial Fibrillation). It is a fluttering of the heart)  and everything in between. Treatments for heart disease is also varied as well. From stents, pacemakers, bypass surgery and valve replacements, just to name a few,  the medicine you take is dependent on what treatment you underwent.

So what can be done if so many pills can lead to depression? Well most doctors’ offices use Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and it keeps track of your doctors, your appointments, and of course your medicine. The government forced doctors to use this program starting in 2014 with the onset of Obamacare.

HealthIT.gov lists some of the advantages of using an EMR as:

The same article goes on to say that it makes for more reliable and safer prescribing. Which is what we are discussing here but the people putting in the information are still human and can click the wrong medicine which can be lethal or in this case just make you depressed.  However, EMRs come with their own set of problems.

Paul Hseih, a contributor for Forbes.com had this to say about the reliability of EMRs. HealthIT.gov lists some of the advantages of using an EMR as:

At first glance, adopting electronic medical records (EMRs) would seem a no-brainer for doctors and hospitals. After all, electronic records are the norm for many successful businesses, assisting with sales, inventory, and billing. In theory, electronic medical records should allow doctors to work more efficiently. But in practice, many doctors are finding that EMRs hinder their ability to practice good medicine.

How do they hinder  good medicine? Many doctors complain about spending less time with the patient and more time with a computer screen and the repetition of information that they have to input. For instance, whenever I got to see my cardiologist I am asked if I smoke, drink or do drugs, even though I have answered those same questions on every previous visit and they have the information already documented in the system. I am allowed 20 minutes per visit and the repeat of information they already have takes up about 5 minutes, therefore cutting a quarter of my time with my cardiologist.

Experts attribute these complaints to lack of training and less than optimal implementation coupled with an aversion among some physicians to adopting new technology.

While the EMR can definitely help in many cases, human error cannot be eliminated totally. As such Forbes reminds you to do the following with your prescriptions:

Make sure you understand all your prescription medications. The most common errors in electronic medical records involve patient medications (either a wrong medication or a wrong dose). Discuss each medication with your doctor and/or pharmacist until you understand why you are taking it, the proper dose, how often, for how long, and what side effects to look out for.

If any of your prescriptions have depression as one of the side effects, talk to your doctor about it and tell them multiple medications list depression as a potential side effect and can you switch medications to lessen your chances of getting depression, especially if you are already prone to depression to begin with.

Incidentally, on the subject of depression, as reported by Time magazine – if you want to lessen your chance of cardiovascular disease by 42 percent and depression in general, get married. But then again, there are known side effects to that as well.

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