New Research Finds Depression May Increase Your Risk Of Heart Disease

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We see the bearing that mental health has on our physical health manifest in many ways. Stress, for example, can cause issues with our digestion, our weight, and even our skin. Anxiety can cause muscle tension and weaken our immune system. And depression—well, it can have a serious physiological impact, too. So much of an impact that, according to new research, it could increase your risk of heart disease. 

According to findings from an observational study done by the American Heart Association, depression may increase a person's risk of having heart disease or stroke. There's a wealth of research out there that links certain health factors and markers with this increased risk, but those tend to be physical (think high cholesterol or high blood pressure). This study underscores the connection between mental health and disease risk—a connection we as a society should be taking more seriously instead of continuing to stigmatize mental illness.

"Cardiovascular diseases are impacted by and related to a variety of aspects of health and well-being including mental health," said study author Yosef M. Khan, M.D., Ph.D., national director of health informatics and analytics for the American Heart Association. "We found that the level of depression was strongly tied to living with heart disease and stroke, even after accounting for other factors that could impact risk, including variables of age, income, education, sex and race/ethnicity."

Researchers utilized depression questionnaires obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to examine depression and nonfatal heart disease such as heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, angina, or heart failure in adults ages 20 and up. Of the 11,000 adults they identified as having depression in the surveys, 1,200 of them had been diagnosed with heart disease.

While 10% may not seem like much, when applied to our population as a whole, it means that, in theory, 20 million U.S. adults living with depression have a higher risk of being diagnosed with heart disease. That's more than the populations of the largest U.S. cities—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix—combined

Startling statistics aside, you may be wondering: How does one quantify depression? And what level of depression do you have to have for your risk of heart disease to increase? This research revealed that with every additional level increase of depression—mild, moderate, moderately severe, or severe—the chances of someone developing heart disease increased by 24%. 

"The implications of such an increase are vast," Khan said. "By understanding the relationship and degree of impact, we can properly identify, prevent, treat, and create policies and strategies to help decrease cardiovascular diseases and improve lives by tackling mental health and heart disease together."

To be clear: We didn't need more evidence that mental health matters, but seeing how major of an impact it can have on our physical being as well as our psyche is alarming, to say the least. Bottom line? Take care of your mental health, friends.

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