Middle-aged adults battling anxiety or depression face a much higher risk of a heart attack or stroke, a study has found.
Researchers uncovered evidence to suggest the mental health conditions boost the odds by as much as 45 per cent.
The findings, led by Scottish and Australian scientists, add to a plethora of evidence that shows a link between the two.
But the new study shines the light on the different odds of a heart attack or stroke for men and women with poor mental health.
The researchers have now called for more trials to delve into why women appear to be more vulnerable to cardiovascular damage from stress.
Researchers uncovered evidence to suggest the mental health conditions boost the odds by as much as 45 per cent
Mental disorders, such as depression, have been linked to a greater risk of heart disease and stroke for decades.
But previous trials have produced inconsistent findings and the link between mental and physical health remains poorly understood.
Almost 222,000 participants over 45 were involved in the new study, which tracked their health for around four years.
No adults in the study, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, had ever suffered a heart attack or stroke before.
What is depression?
While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience at some point in their life.
Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.
Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.
In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.
Source: NHS Choices
Subjects answered 10 questions to determine whether they had low, medium, high or very high psychological distress.
Questions included: ‘How often do you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?’ and ‘How often do you feel restless or fidgety?’
Edinburgh University and the University of Queensland researchers then analysed the risk of a heart attack or stroke for different levels of distress.
The risk of having a heart attack or stroke rose with each level of psychological distress.
For women, high or very high distress was linked with a 44 per cent increased risk of stroke, compared to those with low distress.
But for men with high distress, their risk of a heart attack was slightly lower at 30 per cent, compared to those with low distress.
The findings remained true after other risk factors were accounted for, such as smoking, alcohol intake and dietary habits.
Dr Caroline Jackson, the study’s senior author, based in Edinburgh, said: ‘These factors may explain some of the observed increased risk.
‘[But] they do not appear to account for all of it, indicating other mechanisms are likely to be important.’
She also urged people with symptoms of psychological distress to seek medical help because of its potential damage to their heart.