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Depression & Odds of Heart Attack in Younger Women

And compared with older women and men, they are more likely to become depressed, researchers say
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The researchers found that 27 percent of them were clinically depressed. By contrast, depression was cited among just 9 percent of men 65 and older.

And while depression didn't appear related to heart disease risk among men of any age or elderly women, the team found that among women 55 and younger, every one-point rise in depression symptom ratings translated into a 7 percent rise in heart disease risk.

That meant that depressed young and middle-aged women faced a 2.17 times greater risk for experiencing a heart attack, or for needing an invasive procedure to widen their diseased arterial pathways.

The same women also faced similar elevated risk for dying from heart disease, and a 2.45 greater risk for dying from any cause during the study follow-up period.

"Although we have more work to better understand what's going on, what this means is that young depressed women should view depression as a motivating factor to live a healthier lifestyle and be more aggressive about preventive care," said Shah.

Because depression might undermine a woman's ability to obtain medical care, her friends, family and physicians may need to get involved and provide encouragement, he said.

Michael O'Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said researchers have long seen an association between heart disease and depression, among both males and females.

However, that association does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"In general, depression increases the morbidity of many medical illnesses, including heart disease," O'Hara said. "For example, women and men who have depression after a heart attack often have poorer recoveries and are more likely to die."

Exactly why isn't clear. "We know that depression is associated with inflammatory processes and immune function," he said. "So there has been some thought that, in fact, depression compromises the body's ability to recover from illness."

Studies like this that strive to better understand the connection between depression and illness are very important for both men and women, O'Hara added.

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