Depression or a history of suicide attempts among young people who are less than 40 increases their risk for dying from heart disease, according to a study led by an Indian origin researcher.
Amit Shah and his team from the Emory University School of Medicine analysed data from 7,641 people between the ages of 17 and 39 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey-III (NHANES-III), and the deaths were tracked through 2006.
"This is the first study looking at depression as a risk factor for heart disease specifically in young people," Viola Vaccarino, senior author of the study, said.
"We're finding that depression is a remarkable risk factor for heart disease in young people. Among women, depression appears to be more important than traditional risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, obesity and diabetes which are not common in young women," she said.
They found that women with depression or a history of attempted suicide had a three times higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 14 times higher risk of dying from heart attack.
The corresponding figures for men were 2.4 times higher risk for cardiovascular disease and 3.5 times higher risk for ischemic heart disease.
The researchers considered the possibility that depressed people may have more lifestyle-related risk factors such as smoking and poor diet and they also found a significant link to heart disease risk coming from depression and suicide attempts.
"Direct physiological effects of depression may play a greater role than lifestyle factors in this young population," the authors said.
Depression may increase the risk of heart disease through physiological mechanisms, such as lower heart rate variability and increased cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and inflammation.
"This is a group that normally should be low risk," Vaccarino said.
"Studying these individuals more intensively could be important for understanding how depression affects the heart," she added.
The study has been recently published in Archives of General Psychiatry.