Major depression and cardiac autonomic control

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      We investigated autonomic control of heart rate in patients with major depression, melancholic type. Twenty-three depressed inpatients who were being treated with tricyclic antidepressants and 23 depressed patients who were taking no medications were compared with age- and sex-matched control groups on resting cardiac vagal tone and heart rate. In unmedicated depressed patients, cardiac vagal tone was comparable to that of control subjects, but heart rate was significantly higher. This increase in heart rate may have been due to sympathetic activation caused by anxiety, since the depressed patients were significantly more anxious than the control subjects. Medicated patients exhibited diminished cardiac vagal tone and higher heart rate than unmedicated patients and controls. This was probably due to the anticholinergic effects of the antidepressants. Our findings suggest that cardiac vagal tone is not lower than normal in patients with depression, melancholic type.

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