People who are diagnosed with depression are significantly more likely to develop heart disease . It is not yet clear why depression increases the risk of heart disease, but depression is associated with chronic stress, smoking, unhealthful diets, physical inactivity, and a number of other cardiovascular risk factors.

A new study in the December 20, 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine investigated the association between hospitalization for depression and heart disease risk in men and women of different age groups. The researchers found a significant association between depression and heart disease in both men and women ages 25-69.

About the Study

Researchers used information from a large database to identify all people in Sweden ages 25-64 who were hospitalized with depression, and all people ages 25-79 who were hospitalized with nonfatal coronary heart disease (CHD), including heart attack and other forms of CHD. The researchers analyzed whether hospitalization for depression increased the risk of heart disease in men and women of different age groups. They adjusted their findings for socioeconomic status (based on occupation) and geographic region. The analyses included 425,495 people with CHD who had not been hospitalized for depression, and 1,916 people with CHD who had been hospitalized for depression.

Overall, both men and women hospitalized with depression were almost 1.5 times more likely to develop CHD. The association was strongest in people ages 25-39, who were 2.5 times more likely to develop CHD after being hospitalized for depression. The association weakened as age increased, and people ages 70-79 who had been hospitalized for depression were not at increased risk of developing CHD at all.

This study was limited because it did not take other CHD risk factors (e.g., smoking, diet, physical activity) into account. In addition, it only included people who were hospitalized with depression, presumably those with the most severe cases. The findings may not pertain, therefore, to people with less severe depression.

How Does This Affect You?

These finding support other research that links depression with an increased risk of heart disease. The study goes further to suggest that the link between depression and CHD is strongest in younger people, and depression may actually not be a significant risk factor for CHD in people ages 70-79.

If you (or someone you know) is depressed, it is essential to seek medical care. Talk to your doctor, who can evaluate and treat your symptoms, or refer you to a mental health professional. Depression can be effectively treated in almost all cases. Recognizing and promptly managing depression is clearly important for both mental and physical health.