Heart disease tops the list as the leading cause of death for adults worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine has revealed that young adults who experience feelings of depression are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and poor heart health. The study analyzed data from over half a million individuals aged 18 to 49 and found that depression in young adulthood could be a potential predictor of CVD. These findings add to the growing body of evidence linking depression and CVD in young and middle-aged adults and suggest that the relationship between the two conditions may start at a young age.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that young adults who reported feelings of depression or poor mental health were more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, and other risk factors for heart disease compared to their peers with good mental health. The findings of the study underscore the importance of addressing mental health in young adults.
“When you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, you may feel overwhelmed, and your heart rate and blood pressure rise. It’s also common that feeling down could lead to making poor lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking alcohol, sleeping less and not being physically active — all adverse conditions that negatively impact your heart,” says Garima Sharma, M.B.B.S., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine and senior author of the study.
Sharma and her colleagues looked at data from 593,616 adults who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a self-reported, nationally representative survey conducted between 2017 and 2020. The survey included questions about whether they have ever been told they have a depressive disorder, how many days they experienced poor mental health in the past month (0 days, 1–13 days or 14–30 days), whether they had experienced a heart attack, stroke or chest pain, and if they had cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight/obese, smoking, diabetes, and poor physical activity and diet. People who had two or more of these risk factors were considered to have suboptimal cardiovascular health.
One in five adults self-reported having depression or frequently feeling low, with the study noting that there could have been higher rates during the last year of the study, which was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of U.S. adults who experienced depression or anxiety jumped from 36.4% to 41.5% during the first year of the pandemic, with the highest spike among people ages 18 to 29.
The study revealed that, overall, those who self-reported several days of feeling down had a stronger link to cardiovascular disease and poor heart health. Compared with people who reported no poor mental health days in the past 30 days, participants who reported up to 13 poor mental health days had 1.5 times higher odds of CVD, while those with 14 or more days of poor mental health had double the odds. Associations between poor mental health and CVD did not differ significantly by gender or urban/rural status.
“The relationship between depression and heart disease is a two-way street. Depression increases your risk of heart issues, and those with heart disease experience depression,” says Yaa Adoma Kwapong, M.D., M.P.H., a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and lead author of the study. “Our study suggests that we need to prioritize mental health among young adults and perhaps increase screening and monitoring for heart disease in people with mental health conditions and vice versa to improve overall heart health.”
Kwapong says this new study only provides a snapshot of cardiovascular health among young people with depression, and that new studies need to look at how depression affects cardiovascular health over time.
Reference: “Association of Depression and Poor Mental Health With Cardiovascular Disease and Suboptimal Cardiovascular Health Among Young Adults in the United States” by Yaa A. Kwapong, Ellen Boakye, Sadiya S. Khan, Michael C. Honigberg, Seth S. Martin, Chigolum P. Oyeka, Allison G. Hays, Pradeep Natarajan, Mamas A. Mamas, Roger S. Blumenthal, Michael J. Blaha and Garima Sharma, 23 January 2023, Journal of the American Heart Association.
The study was partially funded by the American Heart Association.