Even mild depression, anxiety hurts the heart: study

August 1, 2012 By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter
Even mild depression, anxiety hurts the heart: study
The risk rises as chronic mental distress becomes more intense, study says.

(HealthDay) -- Even mild depression or anxiety may raise your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and other causes, according to British researchers.

And the greater the level of psychological distress, the higher the odds of death from , the researchers say.

"The fact that an increased risk of mortality was evident, even at low levels of psychological distress, should prompt research into whether treatment of these very common, minor symptoms can reduce this increased risk of death," said lead researcher Tom Russ, a clinical research fellow at the Alzheimer Scotland Research Center of the University of Edinburgh.

For the study, published online July 31 in , Russ and colleagues analyzed 10 studies of men and women enrolled in the for England from 1994 to 2004. Data on more than 68,000 adults aged 35 and older was included overall.

Each study looked for connections between chronic psychological distress and the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes, including cancer.

Pooling data in this way is called a meta-analysis. In such a study, researchers look for common patterns across several studies.

Over eight years' follow-up, the researchers found even very or -- subclinical levels -- raised the risk of all-cause death, including , by 20 percent. Looking specifically at death from heart disease, mild psychological distress raised this risk 29 percent, the study found.

For the highest level of or anxiety, the risk of all-cause death rose 94 percent, the researchers found.

Risk of death from cancer was increased 9 percent in cases of very or anxiety, the investigators found. Lower levels of psychological distress were not associated with increased risk of .

An individual's actual risk of death remains small, however, and people shouldn't assume they are doomed to an early if they suffer from a psychological disorder.

Dr. Glyn Lewis, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the University of Bristol in England and author of an accompanying journal editorial, said evidence linking stress to heart disease continues to mount.

"If we can reduce the psychological impact, then this should reduce the biological response," he said. But how to accomplish that remains a puzzle.

A type of psychological treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to help people change the way they respond to potentially stressful events, Lewis said. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients to change their thinking about situations and to react less emotionally.

"This might help people with [clinical] depression, but there is no evidence that this might help the much larger numbers of people who have low-level symptoms that are below the diagnostic threshold for depression," he said.

While antidepressants might improve depression, previous studies have linked their use to greater risk of heart disease, according to background research in the study. About 7.5 percent of United Kingdom residents have depression and anxiety disorders, Lewis said.

Changing this stress-disease dynamic might also involve keeping common risk factors for cardiovascular disease in check, another expert said.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said many studies have demonstrated an association between depression and anxiety and cardiovascular events, cardiovascular deaths and all-cause mortality.

But so far, no evidence has shown that treating depression or anxiety reduces the risk of heart disease, Fonarow said.

Many different mechanisms may connect to cardiovascular disease, including increased sympathetic nervous system activity, stress hormones such as cortisol, chronic inflammation, unhealthy lifestyle factors and inattention to early symptoms, he said.

"For people with depression or anxiety, focusing on proven cardiovascular risk factor interventions, including maintaining healthy blood pressure, body weight, cholesterol levels, engaging in regular exercise and not smoking, may represent the best course of action to lower their cardiovascular risk," he advised.

Explore further: Psychological distress increases risk of death from stroke

More information: For more information on cardiovascular disease, visit the American Heart Association.

Related Stories

Psychological distress increases risk of death from stroke

June 18, 2012
Psychological distress was associated with a higher risk of death from stroke, according to a study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Poor mental health linked to reduced life expectancy

July 31, 2012
People with mental health problems have a lower life expectancy, according to a large-scale population based study published today in the British Medical Journal. The findings may prompt further research into the way doctors ...

Depression link to heart disease not affected by medication

February 3, 2012
People with major depression and anxiety are 75% more likely to have a heart rate condition linked to cardiovascular disease – regardless of whether they are taking antidepressants, new research shows.

Recommended for you

Medical expansion has improved health—with one exception

March 21, 2018
While Americans debate the rising cost of health care, a new study of 30 countries over 27 years found that medical expansion has improved overall health - with one major exception.

Study finds bad sleep habits start early in school-age children

March 21, 2018
Bad sleep habits in children begin earlier than many experts assume. That's the takeaway from a new study led by McGill University researchers. The findings suggest that official sleep guidelines for young school children ...

Forgetting details, getting the gist may prompt false memories in older adults

March 21, 2018
Older adults often complain about forgetting, but Penn State psychologists suggest that another problem may be misremembering.

Research study encourages hospitals to reduce number of paper documents created

March 20, 2018
After collecting nearly 600 kilograms of papers from recycling bins at five Toronto hospitals, researchers at St. Michael's Hospital found 2,687 documents containing personal health or other information that should instead ...

Limiting shifts for medical trainees affects satisfaction, but not educational outcomes

March 20, 2018
Limiting first-year medical residents to 16-hour work shifts, compared to "flexing" them to allow for some longer shifts, generally makes residents more satisfied with their training and work-life balance, but their training ...

Fasting diets reduce important risk factor for cardiovascular disease

March 19, 2018
Intermittent energy restriction diets such as the 5:2 diet clears fat from the blood quicker after eating meals compared with daily calorie restriction diets, reducing an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.