Can antidepressants help some people with heart disease better deal with stress? Researchers at Duke University studied people with heart disease and how they reacted when faced with challenging social and mental tests. Participants who were taking an antidepressant while coping with stress were less likely to have myocardial ischemia, a condition where the heart gets less blood. Of the 112 people in the trial, half took the antidepressant Lexapro for six weeks prior to doing stressful tasks. Sixty-six percent of the participants taking antidepressants had myocardial ischemia during the tasks, while 82% of the people not taking antidepressants experienced myocardial ischemia.

Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, assistant professor of medicine and director of the women’s heart program at the University of Michigan said patient’s mental stress isn’t usually tested by cardiologists. She believes this study suggests that “if they’re under severe stress, maybe we should be looking at that and treating it more aggressively than we do now.” Jackson, who was not involved in the study also said that other options could also help, including many that don’t involve drugs. This study, she says is a reminder that “we can’t just look at the heart separately. We need to look at people’s emotional healthiness to keep them heart healthy.”     5/22/13

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