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Our hearts and minds are more closely linked than we thought, suggests University of Cambridge study

People who have symptoms of depression are more likely to develop heart disease or suffer a stroke, University of Cambridge researchers have found.

They analysed health records from half a million people with no prior history of heart and circulatory disease, who were enrolled on two separate studies.

Our mental and physical health are connected, the research suggests
Our mental and physical health are connected, the research suggests

These featured a questionnaire to assess their mood and any symptoms of depression they had experienced over the previous one to two weeks. The scores were divided into five groups based on the severity of symptoms.

More than 10 years later, researchers found those with the most severe symptoms of depression were more likely to have since developed heart disease or had a stroke.

Professor Emanuele Di Angelantonio, BHF-funded researcher at the University of Cambridge, said: “This is the largest evidence to date that feelings related to depression are associated with a person’s chance of having heart disease or stroke in the future.

“The observed higher risk is small in magnitude and these results are just one piece of the puzzle. We now need to do more research to understand whether these observed associations are causal and the possible biology behind this link.”

One of the studies, UK Biobank (2006-10), featured 401,219 participants. In this group, there were 21 cases of heart disease per 1,000 people across 10 years in the highest scoring group, compared to 14 per 1,000 in the lowest scoring group. There were 15 strokes per 1000 people compared to 10 per 1,000 among those with the lowest scores.

This means an extra seven cases of heart disease and five strokes per 10,000 people would be expected in one year for those with higher symptoms of depression.

Similar results were found in the other study, Emerging Risk Factor Collaboration (1960-2008). involving 162,036 people across 21 studies in Europe and North America.

The higher risk existed even once factors linked to heart disease and stroke - such as age, sex, smoking status, diabetes history, blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels - were taken into account.

But the researchers stress that the symptoms were only assessed at the point the person joined one of the studies.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation,which part-funded the work, said: “Our mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. It’s clear from this research that our hearts and minds are more connected than we previously thought. By exploring this link further, we may find new ways of helping to improve our heart health.

“However, it is important to stress that the increased risk is modest and observed over a long period of time. It should not alarm those currently experiencing low mood or feelings of depression about their immediate heart health.”

This study, published in JAMA, was also supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Health Data Research UK (HDRUK).

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