Tue | May 26, 2020

Depression, anxiety linked to higher risk of major health issues

Published:Tuesday | January 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM

 People suffering from anxiety and depression may be at higher risk for developing other major health conditions, like heart disease, suggests new research, perhaps at levels comparable to smoking and obesity ­ though the ‘perhaps’ in this case is significant.

The study analysed health data for more than 15,000 adults over a four-year period from the Health and Retirement study, a large United States population-based study of older adults. Among that group, 16 per cent suffered from high levels of anxiety and depression, 31 per cent were obese, and 14 per cent were smokers.

The researchers found that compared to those without anxiety and depression, participants suffering from those conditions were at 65 per cent increased risk of a heart condition, 64 per cent for stroke, and 50 per cent for high blood pressure. Risk was especially high for arthritis at 87, per cent.

"These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese," said senior study author Aoife O'Donovan, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Psychiatry. "However, for arthritis, high anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity."




The research team also found strong correlative links between depression and anxiety with more common symptoms such as headache, back pain, upset stomach, and shortness of breath. Headache occurrence was 161 per cent higher among depression and anxiety patients, compared with no increase among smokers and obese participants.

The study didn't find a correlation between depression, anxiety and higher risk of cancer.

"Our findings are in line with a lot of other studies showing that psychological distress is not a strong predictor of many types of cancer," O'Donovan noted. "On top of highlighting that mental health matters for a whole host of medical illnesses, it is important that we promote these null findings. We need to stop attributing cancer diagnoses to histories of stress, depression and anxiety."

The results of the study underscore the "long-term costs of untreated depression and anxiety", added O'Donovan in a press statement.

"Anxiety and depression symptoms are strongly linked to poor physical health," said the study's first author, Andrea Niles, PhD, "yet these conditions continue to receive limited attention in primary care settings, compared to smoking and obesity."

The study was published in the journal Health Psychology.