New research has found that experiencing symptoms of psychological distress such as depression and anxiety may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease for those over the age of 45.
A collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, UK, and the The University of Queensland, Australia, the large-scale research looked at 221,677 participants over the age of 45, none of whom had experienced a heart attack or stroke before the start of the study.
The participants were asked to complete a 10-question survey in order for the researchers to assess their level of psychological distress, answering questions such as: “How often do you feel tired out for no good reason?” How often do you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?” “How often do you feel restless or fidgety?”
Researchers then categorized psychological distress as low, medium and high/very high.
After following the participants for more than four years, the researchers found that as the level of psychological distress increased, so did the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
In men, high/very high psychological distress was associated with a 22 percent increased risk of stroke, when compared to low psychological distress, and in those age 45 to 79, high/very high psychological distress was associated with a 30 percent increased risk of heart attack.
Among women, high/very high psychological distress was associated with a 44 percent increased risk of stroke and an 18 percent increased risk of heart attack, with similar findings across age groups.
The results held true even after the researchers had taken into account potentially influencing lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, alcohol intake, and diet, and disease history.
Although common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety and their symptoms are thought to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, previous research has provided inconsistent results.
The new findings now add to the existing evidence that there may be a link between the conditions, however the team noted that further research is needed.
In the meantime, the researchers advise anyone experiencing symptoms of psychological distress to seek medical help, as the symptoms may affect physical as well as mental health.
The findings can be found published online in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.