Depression impacts heart health, with women facing a particularly elevated risk of cardiovascular disease compared to men, a new study has revealed.

According to the study published in the JACC journal, having a previous diagnosis of depression raised the risk for heart disease by 39 percent in men, while the risk was 64 percent in women. The researchers hope their findings will provide insight into the need for tailoring cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention and management strategies according to sex-specific factors.

“The identification of sex-specific factors in the adverse effects of depression on cardiovascular outcomes may help in the development of targeted prevention and treatment strategies that address the specific CVD risks faced by depressed patients. A better understanding will allow healthcare providers to optimize care for both men and women with depression, leading to improved CVD outcomes for these populations,” said Hidehiro Kaneko, a corresponding author of the study.

Earlier studies have established the link between depression and elevated risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, angina, strokes, and death. Although women with depression were found to be at a higher relative risk of experiencing adverse heart-related health outcomes compared to men, there is no sufficient evidence regarding the impact based on sex differences, and the underlying mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not thoroughly understood.

To examine the association between depression and subsequent CVD events, researchers conducted an observational cohort study involving 4,125,720 participants who were part of a Japanese insurance claims database. The participants had a median age of 44 and around 57 percent of them were men.

The study identified people with depression as those clinically diagnosed before their initial health checkup. The participant’s body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and fasting laboratory values were also collected at the checkup. The primary outcome consisted of a composite endpoint that included heart attack, chest pain, stroke, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.

“Researchers analyzed the statistical significance of differences in clinical characteristics between participants with and without depression. Results indicate that the hazard ratio of depression for CVD was 1.39 in men and 1.64 in women compared with participants without depression,” a news release stated.

According to the researchers, women may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease when experiencing depression due to several factors. Women tend to have more severe and persistent symptoms of depression compared to men, especially during periods of significant hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause.

When experiencing depression, women’s higher susceptibility to traditional risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, along with differences in healthcare access and treatment between genders, and the sex-specific biological factors, may all contribute to the increased risk.

“Our study found that the impact of sex differences on the association between depression and cardiovascular outcomes was consistent. Healthcare professionals must recognize the important role of depression in the development of CVD and emphasize the importance of a comprehensive, patient-centered approach to its prevention and management. Assessing the risk of CVD in depressed patients and treating and preventing depression may lead to a decrease of CVD cases,” Kaneko said.

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