Treatments for depression in patients with coronary artery disease

This review examined clinical trials on psychological treatments and antidepressant drugs in depressed patients with coronary artery disease. The objective was to determine the effects of these treatments on depression, death rates, cardiac events such as another heart attack or surgeries, healthcare costs and quality of life. Sixteen trials were identified as relevant for the review. Seven trials investigated psychological treatments, eight trials antidepressant medications and one trial comprised both psychological and drug treatments. Psychological treatments and antidepressant drugs proved to be slightly superior to usual care or placebo (inactive drug) with regard to depressive symptoms. Furthermore, antidepressant drugs might be superior to placebo in reducing subsequent hospitalization rates and emergency room visits. In contrast, there seems to be no positive effect on death rates and cardiac events. Results regarding quality of life are inconclusive. In summary, psychological treatments and antidepressant medications may have a small yet positive effect on depression outcomes in CAD patients. However, the evidence is sparse due to the low number of trials.

Authors' conclusions: 

Psychological interventions and pharmacological interventions with SSRIs may have a small yet clinically meaningful effect on depression outcomes in CAD patients. No beneficial effects on the reduction of mortality rates and cardiac events were found. Overall, however, the evidence is sparse due to the low number of high quality trials per outcome and the heterogeneity of examined populations and interventions.

Read the full abstract...

Depression occurs frequently in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) and is associated with a poor prognosis.


To determine the effects of psychological and pharmacological interventions for depression in CAD patients with comorbid depression.

Search strategy: 

CENTRAL, DARE, HTA and EED on The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, ISRCTN Register and CardioSource Registry were searched. Reference lists of included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were examined and primary authors contacted. No language restrictions were applied.

Selection criteria: 

RCTs investigating psychological and pharmacological interventions for depression in adults with CAD and comorbid depression were included. Primary outcomes were depression, mortality and cardiac events. Secondary outcomes were healthcare costs and health-related quality of life (QoL).

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently examined the identified papers for inclusion and extracted data from included studies. Random effects model meta-analyses were performed to compute overall estimates of treatment outcomes.

Main results: 

The database search identified 3,253 references. Sixteen trials fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Psychological interventions show a small beneficial effect on depression compared to usual care (range of SMD of depression scores across trials and time frames: -0.81;0.12). Based on one trial per outcome, no beneficial effects on mortality rates, cardiac events, cardiovascular hospitalizations and QoL were found, except for the psychosocial dimension of QoL. Furthermore, no differences on treatment outcomes were found between the varying psychological approaches. The review provides evidence of a small beneficial effect of pharmacological interventions with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) compared to placebo on depression outcomes (pooled SMD of short term depression change scores: -0.24 [-0.38,-0.09]; pooled OR of short term depression remission: 1.80 [1.18,2.74]). Based on one to three trials per outcome, no beneficial effects regarding mortality, cardiac events and QoL were found. Hospitalization rates (pooled OR of three trials: 0.58 [0.39,0.85] and emergency room visits (OR of one trial: 0.58 [0.34,1.00]) were reduced in trials of pharmacological interventions compared to placebo. No evidence of a superior effect of Paroxetine (SSRI) versus Nortriptyline (TCA) regarding depression outcomes was found in one trial.