Treating Heart Failure and Depression

Across the United States, more than 6 million people have heart failure. Around 20 to 40 percent of those impacted by the condition also have depression.1

People living with depression may have a lower quality of life and are less likely to follow suggested care. They could also need health services more often and may have a higher chance of death.

Despite these negative health outcomes, people with heart failure often do not receive treatment for depression. A study published in August 2021 examined this issue and the impact of a depression treatment plan for those living with heart failure.

How the study was done

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh recruited 756 people with heart failure for the study, called the Hopeful Heart Trial. Of that group, 629 had depression. Teams of nurses treated study participants for 1 year. A cardiologist and psychiatrist supervised the nurses.1

Those who took part in the study received 1 of 3 types of care:1

  • Standard heart failure treatment
  • Enhanced heart failure treatment (20 to 60-minute phone calls to review medical history, medicine, and any treatment gaps)
  • Blended care for both heart failure and depression

Nurses regularly called each person in the blended care group and asked them about their history of mental and emotional problems. They also suggested treatment options like medicine, exercise, sleep, or talking to a mental health expert.1

What the study results show

After 1 year, people in the blended care group saw improvements in their mood, energy, and overall well-being. When broken down by gender, results also show that both men and women experienced positive effects. Other results show:1

  • Similar rates of medicine use whether or not study participants had depression
  • Similar rates of hospital admissions and death from heart failure between study groups

Researchers say although there are benefits of depression treatment for people with heart failure, the effects are limited.

The future of heart failure care

The Hopeful Heart Trial is the first study of its kind to treat depression in people with heart failure. Scientists have conducted a similar study with people living with diabetes and found notable improvements in mood and diabetes control.

Researchers in the heart failure trial say they were "surprised" that their results did not mirror the diabetes study more closely. They expected people in the blended care group to follow treatment suggestions for their heart failure more often.

Researchers recruited people for the study from underserved and community hospitals. Many times, participants had trouble affording medicine or needed a ride to medical appointments. Researchers say it is critical to address these types of barriers to better serve people living with heart failure.

In the future, their strategy may allow doctors to offer mental health services to people with other health conditions. More research is needed to figure out the related costs and how to help people lower treatment barriers.

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