Mental health issues ‘double young women’s risk of developing heart disease’

Young women looking stressed
Young women looking stressed

Younger women with anxiety and depression are twice as likely to develop heart problems later in life, a study suggests.

Scientists say the conditions could be used as eligibility criteria for screening techniques to prevent serious issues such as heart attacks in at-risk patients.

The data show that anxiety and depression almost double a young woman’s risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Women under 50 often get overlooked in cardiovascular disease, study author Dr Giovanni Civieri, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said, as other demographic groups have a higher incidence.

‘We could reduce cardiovascular disease’

“But this study suggests that if a younger woman has depression or anxiety, we should start screening for cardiovascular risk factors to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease,” he added.

Researchers analysed health records of 71,214 people in the Mass General Brigham Biobank, and a 10-year follow-up revealed the elevated risk.

About 38 per cent of participants developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes.

People with a history of anxiety or depression were about 55 per cent more likely to develop one or more of these risk factors than people without anxiety or depression.

However, data show that women under 50 with anxiety or depression were nearly twice as likely to develop cardiovascular risk factors compared with any other group.

Depression raises risk to male levels

They had the lowest overall rates of cardiovascular risk factors but the mental health conditions greatly increased the risk.

Dr Civieri said: “Once a young woman has depression or anxiety, her absolute risk is comparable to a young male.

“There is a sort of a catch-up phenomenon where depression and anxiety increase the risk that would otherwise be very low.”

The scientists are now hoping to understand why mental health conditions have such a severe impact on young women compared to other demographics.

The findings are due to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session in Atlanta, Georgia, next month.