The Link Between Depression and Heart Disease

Published in Winter 2018

“We have long known that men and women with heart disease and depression are at higher risk for heart attacks and mortality,” explains Johns Hopkins Bayview Cardiac ICU director Marlene Williams, M.D. “But we’re working to better understand the biological mechanisms behind this link, and platelets seem to play a large role.”

Platelets are rich in serotonin, a major neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Through her research, Dr. Williams has found a unique pattern of platelet response to serotonin in patients with stable heart disease. She currently is studying whether or not serotonin platelet aggregation (the clumping together of platelets, which causes blood clots and, eventually, heart attacks or stroke) and higher Beck Depression Inventory scores (a standard measure of a person’s symptoms of depression) are directly related. 

The good news is mild antidepressants not only can improve mood, but also can help break up “sticky,” clumped-together platelets. “We want to get really good at accurately diagnosing and successfully treating depression in patients with heart disease,” says Williams. “We’ll not only be enhancing their quality of life, but we’ll be providing them with a more effective treatment.”