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Even Low Levels of Depressive Symptoms Linked With CV Disease Risk

December 22, 2020

Depressive symptoms, even at levels lower than thresholds used for depressive disorders, are associated with increased risk of incident cardiovascular disease, a study published in JAMA suggests.

“However, the magnitude of associations was modest,” researchers wrote.

The study pooled individual-participant data from 22 long-term prospective studies from the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration and the UK Biobank that included a total 563,255 participants. Participants self-reported depressive symptoms and had no history of cardiovascular disease at baseline.

“This study allowed us to advance our understanding of the association between depressive symptoms and cardiovascular disease in several key aspects,” said senior author Karina W. Davidson, PhD, professor and senior vice president at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Manhasset, New York. “The hope is research like this will help contribute to policy changes for how to best screen and prevent cardiovascular diseases for those at risk.”

Cardiorespiratory Fitness May Halve Depression Risk

The study found significant associations between depressive symptom scores, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (a composite of heart disease and stroke) after adjusting for factors including age, smoking, and diabetes. The association with incident cardiovascular disease held even when scores assessed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale and other validated scales were lower than the threshold typically indicative of depressive disorders, researchers noted.

The study also showed depressive symptoms were associated with a range of cause-specific mortality, such as cancer.

“Anxiety and depression take a significant toll on quality of life in today’s society,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes. “Dr. Davidson’s major study of a large population reveals major complications of depression extend beyond the brain and also impair the heart.” 

—Jolynn Tumolo


Harshfield EL, Pennells L, Schwartz JE, et al. Association between depressive symptoms and incident cardiovascular diseases. JAMA. 2020;324(23):2396-2405.

Libassi M. Feinstein Institutes research reveals depressive symptoms linked to cardiovascular diseases [press release]. Manhasset, New York: Northwell Health; December 15, 2020.

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