Have Depression Or Anxiety? There May Be Health Risks Down The Line

By Beth Leipholtz 12/20/18

A new study examined whether people with depression/anxiety could be at higher risks of future health problems.

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doctor talking to patient with depression about health risks

Could struggling with depression and anxiety put you at risk for more health issues down the road? According to Forbes, new research points to yes.  

A recent study determined that those with depression/anxiety could be at the same or higher risk level for future health problems as smokers or those who are overweight.

The study examined data from the Health and Retirement Study, which included the health data of 15,000 older US adults over four years. Of those, 16% reported high levels of depression and anxiety, 31% were considered obese and 14% were smokers. 

In comparing individuals with anxiety and depression to those without, researchers found that those with depression and/or anxiety had a 65% higher risk of heart conditions, a 64% higher risk for stroke and a 50% higher risk of high blood pressure. Especially high was the increased risk of arthritis, at 87%. 

Lead study author Aoife O’Donovan of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry says these odds are in line with individuals who smoke or are overweight.

“These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese,” he said, according to Forbes. “However, for arthritis, high anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity.”


Researchers also discovered connections between depression/anxiety and more mild health issues like back pain, stomach pain and shortness of breath. Headaches were 161% higher in those with depression and/or anxiety in comparison to those who were smokers or obese.

However, the study did not find any links between depression and anxiety and cancer. 

“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,” O’Donovan tells Forbes. “On top of highlighting that mental health matters for a whole host of medical illnesses, it is important that we promote these null findings. We need to stop attributing cancer diagnoses to histories of stress, depression and anxiety.”

A possible limitation of this study, according to Forbes, is that the data used came from self-assessments of individuals versus clinical assessments. 

“The methodology in this case relied on in-depth interviews and other survey methods, but the results are still observational, not clinical,” Forbes states.

As these findings are in line with other past studies, researchers are reiterating the importance of mental health care. 

“Anxiety and depression symptoms are strongly linked to poor physical health,” the study’s first author, Andrea Niles said, according to Forbes. “Yet these conditions continue to receive limited attention in primary care settings, compared to smoking and obesity.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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