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How mental health could predict younger women's heart health

A new study found that younger women with anxiety or depression were nearly twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes over a 10-year period

The new study found that during a 10-year follow-up period, 38% of participants developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes.
The new study found that during a 10-year follow-up period, 38% of participants developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes. (Pexels)

Heart diseases are generally associated with older adults but the recent increase in heart attacks in young people shows it might be time to revisit the assumption. Now, a new study has found that mental health issues such as anxiety or depression could accelerate the development of cardiovascular risk factors among young and middle-aged women.

The study, presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session, found that younger women with anxiety or depression were nearly twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes over a 10-year period compared to those who did not have these mental health conditions. This puts them nearly on par with men of the same age in terms of heart disease risk, a press statement revealed.

Also read: How Potassium can improve women's heart health

Young women are often thought of as ‘safe’ from risks of cardiovascular disease due to the protective effects of estrogen, says study author Giovanni Civieri. "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,” Civieri said in the statement.

For the study, researchers examined the health records of 71,214 people participating in the Mass General Brigham Biobank, a research program of the Mass General Brigham health system. People who had heart disease or were diagnosed with anxiety or depression after the study began were excluded, the statement elaborated.

The findings showed that during a 10-year follow-up period, 38% of participants developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes. Notably, women with a history of anxiety or depression before the study period were about 55% more likely to develop one or more of these risk factors than those without anxiety or depression.

"Once a young woman has depression or anxiety, her absolute risk is comparable to a young male," Civieri added in the statement. "There is a sort of a catch-up phenomenon where depression and anxiety increase the risk that would otherwise be very low."

Previous studies have found various factors linked to women’s heart health. For instance, a study, published in the journal Circulation in February, found that sleep patterns during midlife may strongly influence the risk of heart disease later in life, especially among women.

These studies emphasise that the risk of heart disease among women, even young women, should not be prioritised in health check-ups.

Also read: How lack of sleep could increase heart disease risk among women

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