Depression and anxiety may increase risk of heart attack and stroke

In a recent study, researchers find that people ages 45 or older who experience depression and anxiety may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Mental disorders and their symptoms are thought to be linked to high risk of heart disease and stroke.

But previous studies have shown inconsistent findings and the interplay between mental and physical health is poorly understood.

To solve the problem, the current study examined data from  221,677 participants from Australia. All of the people had not experienced a heart attack or stroke at the start of the study.

The researchers categorized psychological distress as low, medium and high/very high using a standard psychological distress test which asks people to self-assess the level.

During follow-up of more than four years, 4,573 heart attacks and 2,421 strokes occurred.

The absolute risk – overall risk of developing a disease in a certain time period – of heart attack and stroke rose with each level of psychological distress.

The researchers found that among women, high/very high psychological distress was associated with a 44% increased risk of stroke.

In men ages 45 to 79, high/very high versus low psychological distress was associated with a 30% increased risk of heart attack, with weaker estimates in those 80 years old or older.

The link between psychological distress and high cardiovascular disease risk was present even after accounting for lifestyle behaviors and disease history.

The team suggests that their findings add to the existing evidence that there is a link between psychological distress and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Future studies are needed to find out the underlying mechanisms connecting psychological distress and cardiovascular disease and stroke risk.

The researchers also suggest that people with psychological distress should seek medical help because, aside from the impact on their mental health, symptoms of psychological distress appear to also impact physical health.

The University of Queensland and the University of Edinburgh funded the study.

Caroline Jackson, Ph.D. is the study’s senior author and a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The study is published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.

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Source: Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.