A LARGE study of more than 220,000 Australians suggests middle aged adults who experience psychological distress such as depression and anxiety are up to 60% more likely to have a heart attack.
The study found Australians aged 45-79 years with psychological distress had an estimated 20-60% higher risk of heart attack.
The findings suggested different odds of heart attack for Australian men and women experiencing high levels of stress.
Researchers found that women aged 45-79 experiencing high or very high distress had an 18% higher risk of heart attack. Australian men in the same age group experiencing high or very high distress had a 30% higher risk of heart attack.
The study found that psychological distress influences the risk of heart attack and stroke independently of other risk factors, such as smoking, alcohol intake and dietary habits.
Heart Foundation chief medical adviser, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings said the study improves our understanding of the relationship between heart disease and mental health.
“This study adds to the weight of evidence which supports a relationship between heart disease and mental health. But the results don’t show us whether psychological distress causes heart attack or stroke, or if factors leading up to a heart attack or stroke are associated with distress. It is likely to be a combination of the two,” he said.
Professor Jennings said while this is a complex area and further research is required, evidence shows that people do get stressed and depressed after a cardiac event.
“We know that people exposed to sudden psychological stress such as a major natural disaster, are more likely to suffer a heart attack.”
Professor Jennings said long-term stress, which often accompanies disadvantage, is associated with poor lifestyle and risk-taking behaviours such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
“People in this study who had a high score on the psychological distress questionnaire also had high levels of some standard risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
“That’s why it’s crucial for people experiencing stress or going through a major life change to also have a heart check by their GP. The take-out here for clinicians is the need to monitor their patient’s mental health as well as their physical health.”
Story Source: The Heart Foundation