Depression, anxiety may lead to heart disease and arthritis

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WASHINGTON: According to a recent study, anxiety and depression may be the leading predictors of conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches, back pain, stomach ache.

Anxiety and depression may have similar effects as long-established risk factors like smoking and obesity, the new research suggests. The study was published in the journal ‘Health Psychology’.

Typically, an annual physical check-up involves a weight check and questions about unhealthy habits like smoking, but this study from UC San Francisco suggests health care providers may be overlooking a critical question- Are you depressed or anxious?

In the study, authors Andrea Niles and Aoife O’Donovan looked at the health data of more than 15,000 older adults over a four-year period. The authors evaluated health data from a government study of 15,418 retirees, whose average age was 68. Depression and anxiety symptoms were assessed using data from participant interviews. Participants were questioned about their current smoking status, while weight was self-reported or measured during in-person visits. Medical diagnoses and somatic symptoms were reported by participants.

They found that 16 percent (2,225) suffered from high levels of anxiety and depression, 31 percent (4,737) were obese and 14 percent (2,125) were current smokers.

Participants with high levels of anxiety and depression were found to face 65 percent increased odds for a heart condition, 64 percent for stroke, 50 percent for high blood pressure and 87 percent for arthritis, compared to those without anxiety and depression.

“These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese. However, for arthritis, high anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity,” said O’Donovan.

Unlike the other conditions investigated, the authors found that high levels of depression and anxiety were not associated with cancer incidence.

“Our findings are in line with a lot of other studies showing that psychological distress is not a strong predictor of many types of cancer. On top of highlighting that mental health matters for a whole host of medical illnesses, it is important that we promote these null findings. We need to stop attributing cancer diagnoses to histories of stress, depression and anxiety,” added O’Donovan.

Niles and O’Donovan discovered that symptoms such as a headache, stomach upset, back pain and shortness of breath increased exponentially in association with high stress and depression. Odds for a headache, for example, were 161 percent higher in this group, compared with no increase among the participants who were obese and smokers. (ANI)