Depression, the autonomic nervous system, and coronary heart disease.Psychosom Med. 2005 May-Jun; 67 Suppl 1:S29-33.PM
Depression is a risk factor for medical morbidity and mortality in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD). Dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) may explain why depressed patients are at increased risk. Studies of medically well, depressed psychiatric patients have found elevated levels of plasma catecholamines and other markers of altered ANS function compared with controls. Studies of depressed patients with CHD have also uncovered evidence of ANS dysfunction, including elevated heart rate, low heart rate variability, exaggerated heart rate responses to physical stressors, high variability in ventricular repolarization, and low baroreceptor sensitivity. All of these indicators of ANS dysfunction have been associated with increased risks of mortality and cardiac morbidity in patients with CHD. Further research is needed to determine whether ANS dysfunction mediates the effects of depression on the course and outcome of CHD, and to develop clinical interventions that improve cardiovascular autonomic regulation while relieving depression in patients with CHD.