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Even Mild Anxiety May Shorten a Person's Life

Study: Low Levels of Anxiety or Depression Are Tied to an Increased Risk of Death

Anxiety, Depression, and the Risk of Death continued...

The more depression and anxiety a person reported having, the more likely they were to die.

People with mild distress were about 29% more likely to die of heart disease or stroke than people who reported no distress. Mild distress didn't seem to raise the risk for cancer.

People with moderate levels of distress were about 43% more likely to die of any cause. And people with high levels of distress were 94% more likely to die during the study than people with no distress.

"We saw a very clear association across the full range of distress," says researcher Tom C. Russ, MD, a clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K.

"Even these low levels of symptoms that you might just dismiss as just part of life or whatever still were associated with an increased risk of mortality," Russ says. "It's just a message that we need to take these things more seriously."

Reducing Distress

The study findings did not surprise Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta who studies the role of depression in heart disease.

"Clearly there is evidence that depression is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and total mortality as well," says Vaccarino, who was not involved in the research. "This study is one of many that have found this type of association."

So what should people who are dealing with depression and anxiety do? Doctors don't yet know, she says.

Some studies have shown that practices like meditation, which encourage relaxation, can improve risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure. But none have yet shown that reducing stress will help a person live longer or make them less likely to die of heart disease.

"There's no clear solution and no clear link to improved outcomes if you treat these symptoms," she says. "It's very complex."

Until more is known, it's probably not a bad idea to take steps to protect your health, Vaccarino says.

People who are living with anxiety or depression may find that "talk" therapy, exercise, and other techniques like meditation can help reduce their distress.

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