A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has added to the growing evidence linking cardiovascular disease risk and death with depression.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Yaa Adoma Kwapong, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, and her colleagues aimed to understand better the impact of mental health on cardiovascular disease and its risk factors in younger adults.
The researchers analyzed data from 593,616 adults participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Participants reported their history of depression, mental health days in the past month, and whether they had experienced heart attacks, strokes, chest pain, or angina or had cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, and poor diet.
The study found that young adults who reported depression had more than double the odds of cardiovascular disease compared to those without depression. Additionally, the greater the number of poor mental health days they reported, the more likely they were to have cardiovascular disease.
The study’s senior author, Dr. Garima Sharma, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, emphasized the importance of recognizing and addressing poor mental health in patients with cardiovascular disease and vice versa. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed disparities and inequities in healthcare, and more data is needed to see the changes in trends after the pandemic.
Depression and Heart Disease May Be Linked in a Two-Way Cycle
The relationship between heart disease and depression is likely bidirectional, with depression increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and vice versa. Depression can lead to greater stress hormones and inflammation levels, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, people who are depressed may neglect their health, not see a doctor regularly, and have disrupted sleep patterns, all of which can contribute to heart disease and stroke risks.
Summary: The American Heart Association recognizes the link between psychological and cardiovascular health and recommends that healthcare professionals assess the mental health of people with or at risk for heart disease and stroke. Psychotherapy, group therapy, acupuncture, reducing stress, and medication can be used to treat depression. It is also important to teach coping skills for childhood stress and provide adequate mental health services to those who need them.
The Bottom Line: The new study highlights the importance of prioritizing mental health among younger adults in reducing heart disease and improving overall heart health. Greater collaboration is needed between mental health professionals and those treating heart disease and stroke, as well as increased screening and monitoring for heart disease in people with mental health conditions. The study provides a snapshot of cardiovascular health among young people with depression, but future studies need to examine the impact of depression on cardiovascular health over time.