"Our study provides much stronger evidence than we've ever had before that antidepressants are safe and may benefit these patients," said C. Barr Taylor, a physician at Stanford University School of Medicine who was the lead author of the study.
Depression and heart disease have long been recognized as companions, and one can lead to the other, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Depressed people may find it harder to take their medicines and depression can also result in elevated levels of stress hormones which can harm the heart.
The study published in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry involved 1,834 men and women who were depressed or "socially isolated" after suffering heart attacks.
It found that use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- a class of drugs that includes Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft -- was associated with a 43 percent lower risk of death or recurrent nonfatal heart attack compared to those in the group studied who did not take the drugs.
"The results basically suggest that these medications are very useful for patients who have had heart attacks and are depressed," said Taylor, adding that he would recommend that any post-heart attack patient with depression be evaluated for treatment.
The study was paid for by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Pfizer Inc. markets Zoloft, GlaxoSmithKline Plc Paxil and Eli Lilly and Co. Prozac.