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 analyzed health data for more than 15,000 adults over a four-year period from the Health and Retirement study, a large US population-based study of older adults. Among that group, 16% suffered from high levels of anxiety and depression, 31% were obese, and 14% were smokers (note: the original research is a “longitudinal panel study that surveys a representative sample of approximately 20,000 people in America,” an important limitation of which I’ll discuss in a moment).
The researchers found that compared to those without anxiety and depression, participants suffering from those conditions were at 65% increased risk of a heart condition, 64% for stroke, and 50% for high blood pressure. Risk was especially high for arthritis at 87%.
“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 UCSF 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% higher among depression and anxiety patients, compared with no increase among smokers and obese participants.