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Red blood cell size and depression linked for some patients, study shows

Red blood cell size and depression linked for some patients, study shows

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SALT LAKE CITY— Doctors may have found a way to detect depression in patients with heart disease through a simple blood test.

Researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute discovered a correlation between red blood cells that are different sizes and depression in patients with heart disease.

Intermountain representatives presented their research at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Dallas, Monday. Researchers from Intermounatain earlier presented a study linking the risk of heart disease to body mass index in Type-2 diabetes patients.

Red cell distribution width, also known as RDW, measures the dissimilarities between red blood cell size or volume. The higher the RDW, the greater the variance in size, researchers said.

"This study is important as it's the first to show an association between elevated RDW and depression in heart patients," Heidi May, principal researcher for the study at Intermountan Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, said in a statement.

These findings may help doctors with early treatment and diagnosis of depression.

Intermountain researchers monitored 43,226 patients for an average of 5.3 years, monitoring levels of RDW when they were diagnosed with a heart disease and comparing those levels with those found at the time depression was diagnosed.

About RDW
RDW is measured as part of the complete blood count panel test and is used with other tests to distinguish between types of anemia.

The tests measure the strength of pulses produced by red blood cells. Big red blood cells emit stronger pulses and small red blood cells emit weaker ones.

Intermountain researchers found that patients with RDW levels at or above 12.9 percent were at a greater risk for depression. Average RDW levels lie between 11.6 to 14.6.

"Elevated red blood distribution widths are associated with anemia, but it also appears to be associated with other poor outcomes like heart attacks, heart failure, death and now depression," May said.

The study's results remained constant, even when adjusted for risk factors, medication and the presence of other illness.

Researchers said they will conduct additional studies to see if the irregularity in red blood cells, anemia or other associated diseases cause depression or if the two are merely correlated.

"With these findings, physicians should be more aware of this association and note that heart patients with an elevated RDW are at a higher risk for depression," May said. "This should encourage physicians to be more diligent in screening for depression and treating it accordingly."

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Whitney Evans


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