PhotoMaintaining a healthy heart is vital to having good overall health, but there are many issues that can get in the way. Being obese or smoking, for example, can stress the heart and lead to cardiovascular problems, but a new study shows that there is another condition that can be just as harmful.

Researchers from Helmholtz Zentrum München, along with colleagues from the Technical University of Munich and the German Center for Cardiovascular Disease, have found that depression poses just as great a risk to heart health. Further, they believe that finding how it interacts with other risk factors is of paramount importance.

“There is little doubt that depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases,” said group leader Karl-Heinz Ladwig. “The question now is: What is the relationship between depression and other risk factors like tobacco smoke, high cholesterol levels, obesity or hypertension – how big a role does each factor play?”

Comparable risk factor

For the purposes of the study, Ladwig and his colleagues analyzed data from nearly 3,500 male patients between the ages of 45 and 74 for a total of 10 years. During that time, they tracked how depression impacted four other major risk factors for cardiovascular health.

The results indicated that depression led to the development of a fatal cardiovascular disease just as often as elevated cholesterol levels or obesity. The only risk factors that had a greater association were high blood pressure and smoking. Across the entire sample, the researchers say 15% of cardiovascular deaths could be attributed to depression.

“That is comparable to the other risk factors, such as hypercholesterolemia, obesity and smoking,” said Ladwig, pointing out that other risk factors caused between 8.4% and 21.4% of cardiovascular deaths.

The researchers believe that their work may have large implications on how the medical community evaluates depression as a condition. They point out that the findings indicate that the disorder has a “medium effect size within the range of major, non-congenital risk for factors for cardiovascular diseases.”

Ladwig says diagnostic investigation of co-morbid depression should become an industry standard, especially for high-risk patients.

The full study has been published in Atherosclerosis.

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