- Persons 45 years and above living with mental stress, anxiety or depression may be at increased risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack
- The association between poor mental health and increased risk of heart disease was found to be present even after taking into account other known risk factors such as smoking, diet and alcohol intake
- Persons suffering from stress, anxiety or depression are advised to seek prompt medical attention and treatment to avoid adverse effects on physical health such as heart attack and stroke
Mental distress, anxiety and depression can increase risk of stroke and heart attack in adults over 45 years according to a recent study conducted at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. The findings of the study appear inCirculation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association.
Studying Association Between Mental Health and Heart Disease
The New South Wales 45 and Up Study included 221,677 previously healthy volunteers from Australia who had not suffered from stroke or heart attack at the start of the study. Participants were aged 45 years and above, enlisted over a four year period from 2006 to 2009.
- Psychological distress of the participants was categorized as low, medium and high/very high using a standard psychological distress scale using a questionnaire where the participants scored their mental health state
- The survey comprising 10 questions posed queries such as
- “How often do you feel tired without any cause?”
- “How often do you feel so low and depressed and nothing makes you cheerful?”
- “How often do you feel fidgety or restless?”
- Out of the 102,039 men (average age 62 years) and 119,638 women (average age 60 years) volunteers, 16.2 percent reported feeling moderate mental distress and 7.3 percent reported high to very high levels of mental distress.
- A total of 4,573 heart attacks and 2,421 strokes were diagnosed during the follow-up period of more than four years. The overall risk of developing heart attack and stroke in a specified time period was noted to rise with increasing levels of mental stress, anxiety and depression
The findings of the study validate previous research findings that there may be a direct link between mental distress and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
‘Middle aged persons over 45 years with symptoms of anxiety, depression or other aspects of mental distress should seek prompt medical advice as these could affect their physical health and increase risk of heart attacks and stroke
Potential Limitations of Study
Possible limitations of the study include the fact that psychological distress itself may be contributory to other risk factors of heart disease such as smoking and improper diet resulting in underestimation of the effect that psychological stress may have on heart attack or stroke.
Need For Further Research To Find How Mental Health Issues Cause Heart Disease
Although it has been long believed that mental health issues can lead to heart disease, previous studies have shown mixed findings and the associations still remain
- The study team feels that more research is required to identify the mechanisms by which mental health issues might influence the occurrence of heart disease and stroke.
- Additionally, future studies should focus on gender differences in risk of developing heart disease associated with mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression
Takeaway From Study
- Persons with stress and other mental health problems should seek prompt medical help and treatment due to the potential risk of adverse heart events
- Clinicians should thoroughly evaluate heart health of patients presenting with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression
According to Caroline Jackson, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and a Chancellor’s Fellow
at the University of Edinburgh, “We encourage more proactive screening for symptoms of psychological distress. Clinicians should actively screen for cardiovascular risk factors in people with mental health symptoms.”
Symptoms of Prolonged Mental Distress to Be Aware of
If you are persistently having a combination of the symptoms listed below, you may be suffering from stress or other mental health issues. Seek immediate medical attention to address these and improve your overall well-being and also to reduce risk of heart disease
• Feeling anxious and fearful
• Low mood
• Lack of interest in life
• Sleep problems – insomnia, oversleeping
• Difficulty focusing on tasks
• Low sex drive
• Binge eating
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Irritable bowel, nausea, heartburn
• Abdominal discomfort and pain
• Weight gain
• Skin rash
• Weakness and fatigue
• Muscle and joint pains
• High blood pressure
- Anxiety, depression, other mental distress may increase heart attack, stroke risk in adults over 45 – (https://newsroom.heart.org/news/anxiety-depression-other-mental-distress-may-increase-heart-attack-stroke-risk-in-adults-over-45?preview=d2e4 )