Young women who suffer from anxiety or depression may be more at risk of developing heart disease, a study has found.

The findings show that having one of these mental health conditions could speed up a young or middle-aged woman’s cardiovascular risk factors, and that they are almost twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes over 10 years in comparison to women without anxiety or depression.

This heart disease risk level puts them almost on the same par as men of the same age.

Lead author Giovanni Civieri, a cardiologist and research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said: “We often feel that young women are the ‘safe group’ with regards to cardiovascular disease because the incidence of cardiovascular disease is quite low due to the protective effects of oestrogen in this group.

“But this study suggests that if a younger woman has depression or anxiety, we should start screening for cardiovascular risk factors to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

“Once a young woman has depression or anxiety, her absolute risk is comparable to a young male. There is a sort of a catch-up phenomenon where depression and anxiety increase the risk that would otherwise be very low.”

Rates of cardiovascular risk factors and heart attacks are on the rise in younger people, while anxiety and depression have also become more common recently, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research team examined data from more than 71,200 people from the Mass General Brigham Biobank.

At the 10-year follow-up, researchers found that people with a history of anxiety or depression were around 55% more likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes.

This association was seen most strongly in women under the age of 50 with anxiety and depression.

To further explore this link, the team analysed brain scans and found big increases in stress-related neural activity in younger women with anxiety or depression.

Civieri went on to say: “The question is: Why are anxiety and depression associated with heightened gains in risk among younger females? This is something we are continuing to study.”

The findings of this latest study are being presented at the upcoming the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session.

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