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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 01/29/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC Researchers Investigate Possible Link Between Depression and Early Death

CincinnatióThe first systematic review of studies on depression and early death shows that depression may increase the risk of death by cardiovascular disease, especially in men. Researchers caution, however, that methodological problems cause the 57 studies as a whole to not support any broad conclusions about the relationship between depression and early death. The review was published in the January 29 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine.

"Depression clearly increases the risk of death in some people under some circumstances," says Lawson Wulsin, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine and lead author of the review. "But we donít know much about who those high-risk people are. Of the 57 studies from the last 30 years that were reviewed, half reported that depression caused an increased risk of death and the other half reported either no increased risk or mixed findings. Only a third of the studies were methodically acceptable, and only a few were well controlled."

The authors discovered that while the male depressed population experienced an increased risk of death by cardiovascular disease, depression did not affect the risk of death by cancer. Suicide accounted for 15-19 percent of deaths in depressed individuals, leaving the remaining early deaths of depressed patients unexplained in most studies.

"The review shows that we still don't know enough about depression and early death to prevent the effect," says Wulsin. "We need more controlled studies to determine what depressed patient populations are at risk of early death and how depression increases the risk. For example, is the increased risk of early death from cardiovascular disease a direct physiologic effect or an indirect effect of poor self care?"

The other authors of the study are Victoria Wells, MD, DrPH, Institute for Health Policy and Health Services Research, University of Cincinnati Medical Center; and George Vaillant, MD, Brigham and Womenís Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

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