Depression, anxiety affect health as much as smoking

Being anxious or depressed can increase risks for heart disease and stroke, the same as smoking and obesity, according to a new study, that underscores the importance of treating mental health conditions.

The findings showed that people with high levels of anxiety and depression are at 65 percent higher risk for a heart condition, 64 percent for stroke, 50 percent for high blood pressure and 87 percent for arthritis.

“These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese,” said lead author Andrea Niles, from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

However, the study published in the journal Health Psychology showed that cancer was found as an exception to conditions impacted by depression and anxiety.

“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,” said co-author Aoife O’Donovan from the UCSF.

O’Donovan stressed the need to stop attributing cancer diagnoses to histories of stress, depression, and anxiety.

The team also found 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.

“Anxiety and depression symptoms are strongly linked to poor physical health, yet these conditions continue to receive limited attention in primary care settings, compared to smoking and obesity,” Niles said.

The results of the study underscore the “long-term costs of untreated depression and anxiety,” O’Donovan noted.

For the study, the team looked at the health data of more than 15,000 older adults over a four-year period.

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