Increases in resting-state heart rate and decreases in its variability are associated with substantial morbidity and mortality, yet contradictory findings have been reported for the effects of the mood and anxiety disorders and of antidepressants. The authors investigated heart rate and heart rate variability in a large cohort from Brazil, using propensity score weighting, a relatively novel method, to control for numerous potential confounders.
A total of 15,105 participants were recruited in the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health. Mood and anxiety disorders were ascertained using the Portuguese version of the Clinical Interview Schedule–Revised. Heart rate and its variability were extracted from 10-minute resting-state electrocardiograms. Regressions weighted by propensity scores were carried out to compare participants with and without depressive or anxiety disorders, as well as users and non-users of antidepressants, on heart rate and heart rate variability.
Use of antidepressants was associated with increases in heart rate and decreases in its variability. Effects were most pronounced for the tricyclic antidepressants (Cohen’s d, 0.72–0.81), followed by serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Cohen’s d, 0.42–0.95) and other antidepressants (Cohen’s d, 0.37–0.40), relative to participants not on antidepressants. Only participants with generalized anxiety disorder showed robust, though small, increases in heart rate and decreases in its variability after propensity score weighting.
The findings may, in part, underpin epidemiological findings of increased risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Many factors that have an adverse impact on cardiac activity were controlled for in this study, highlighting the importance of cardiovascular risk reduction strategies. Further study is needed to examine whether, how, and when such effects contribute to morbidity and mortality.