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Poor Mental Health Linked to Higher Heart Disease Risk

Poor Mental Health

Both could start in the early years of adulthood.

Young adults who feel down or depressed are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) and have poor heart health, according to a new study led by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers who analyzed data from more than half a million people between 18 and 49 years. The results add to a growing body of evidence linking CVD to depression among young and middle-aged adults and suggest that the link between the two may begin in early adulthood.

The study also found that young adults who reported feeling depressed or having poor mental health had higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and risk factors for heart disease, compared to their peers without mental health problems.

To determine that, they analyzed data from 593,616 adults who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a nationally representative, self-report survey conducted between 2017 and 2020. This included questions about whether they had ever been told they had a depressive disorder, how many days they experienced poor mental health in the past month (0 days, 1-13 days, or 14-30 days), whether they had experienced a heart attack, stroke, or chest pain, and whether they had risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight and obese, smoking, diabetes, and poor diet and physical activity. People with two or more of these risk factors were considered to have suboptimal cardiovascular health.

One in five adults reported having depression or frequently feeling low, and the study notes that there may have been higher rates during the last year of the study, which was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of US adults experiencing depression or anxiety went from 36.4% to 41.5% during the first year of the pandemic.

The study revealed that, in general, people who reported feeling depressed for several days were more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and poor heart health. Compared with people who reported no days of poor mental health in the last 30 days, participants who reported up to 13 days of poor mental health were 1.5 times more likely to have CVD, while those who reported 14 or more days were twice as likely. The associations did not differ significantly according to gender or urban or rural situation.

The relationship between depression and heart disease is bidirectional. Depression increases the risk of heart problems, and those with heart disease suffer from depression.

The academics say this new study only provides a snapshot of cardiovascular health among young people with depression, and that further studies are needed to look at how depression affects cardiovascular health over time.

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