New research has identified a link between heart rate and depression, which could help with the diagnosis and treatment of the mental health issue.

A new pilot study has found that depression can be predicted with a 90% accuracy by analyzing a person’s heart rate over 24 hours.

The research, presented virtually at the 33rd European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress, may be valuable in diagnosing depression and determining the most effective types of treatment.

Depression in the US population

Depression is a mood disorder that can have a debilitating effect on day to day life. It can cause physical symptoms, as well as feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability, and lethargy and make it more difficult to concentrate, sleep, and talk. Depression may also increase the risk of certain health issues, such as heart disease.

If a person has been experiencing symptoms of depression every day for at least 2 weeks, they may be having a major depressive episode. In 2017, approximately 7.1% of the adult United States population had at least one of these episodes.

Depression can be treated with medication, talking therapies, or both. In either case, treatment can take months to be effective. Also, in some people, depression is resistant to treatment.

Recently, in the U.S., ketamine has been approved for use in these circumstances. Half of those with treatment-resistant depression may see a rapid improvement in symptoms after receiving ketamine administered by a clinician.

A link confirmed

In the present pilot study, the researchers utilized ketamine’s rapid effectiveness to quickly assess the relationship between heart rate and depression.

To do so, they recruited 16 people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and 16 healthy people to act as a control group. The participants had their heart rates measured for 4 days and 3 nights.

Half of the participants with depression received ketamine, while the other half received a placebo.

The results were clear. As Schiweck explains: “We found that those with depression had both a higher baseline heart rate and a lower heart rate variation, as we expected. On average, we saw that depressed patients had a heart rate which was roughly 10 to 15 beats per minute higher than in controls.”

“After treatment,” she continues, “we again measured the heart rates and found that both the rate and the heart rate fluctuation of the previously depressed patients had changed to be closer to those found in the controls.”

Importantly, the researchers found that by feeding the heart rate data into an artificial intelligence program, the software was able to correctly identify the participants with depression and those without it.

“Put simply, our pilot study suggests that by just measuring your heart rate for 24 hours, we can tell with 90% accuracy if a person is currently depressed or not,” notes Schiweck.

The researchers also found that the heart rates of the participants with depression stayed elevated during the night, when it usually reduces. Moreover, participants with higher resting heart rates responded better to the ketamine treatment.

This could mean that diagnosis and treatment could be aided by analyzing the heart rate of anyone who presents with symptoms of depression.

Medical reference: Medical News Today