Background: Depression is an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease. Autonomic instability may play a mediating or moderating role in this relationship; however this is not well understood. The objective of this study was to explore cardiac autonomic function and cardiac arrhythmia in depression, the correlation between depression severity and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) related indices, and the prevalence of arrhythmia.
Methods: Individuals (n = 53) with major depression as assessed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, who had a Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD) score ≥20 and a Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale score > 53 were compared to 53 healthy individuals, matched for age and gender. Multichannel Electrocardiograph ECG-92C data were collected over 24 hours. Long-term changes in HRV were used to assess the following vagally mediated changes in autonomic tone, expressed as time domain indices: Standard deviation of the NN intervals (SDNN), standard deviation of 5 min averaged NN intervals (SDANN), Root Mean Square of the Successive Differences (RMSSD) and percentage of NN intervals > 50 ms different from preceding interval (pNN50). Pearson's correlations were conducted to explore the strength of the association between depression severity (using the SDS and HRV related indices, specifically SDNN and low frequency domain / high frequency domain (LF/HF)).
Results: The values of SDNN, SDANN, RMSSD, PNN50 and HF were lower in the depression group compared to the control group (P<.05). The mean value of the LF in the depression group was higher than the in control group (P<.05). Furthermore the ratio of LF/HF was higher among the depression group than the control group (P<.05). A linear relationship was shown to exist between the severity of the depression and HRV indices. In the depression group, the prevalence of arrhythmia was significantly higher than in the control group (P<.05), particularly supraventricular arrhythmias.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that depression is accompanied by dysfunction of the cardiac autonomic nervous system, and further, that depression severity is linked to severity of this dysfunction. Individuals with depression appear to be susceptible to premature atrial and/or ventricular disease.