The risk of early death from heart attacks or stroke is raised by even mild anxiety or depression according to a new study.
It is already thought that patients who suffer from clinical depression or other major mental health problems have a greater chance of dying early.
However, research from universities in Edinburgh and London shows that people with ‘sub-clinical’ anxiety or depression also have an increased risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, scientists looked at deaths in 68,000 middle aged and older people followed from 1994 to 2004.
Those with ‘sub-clinical’ depression or anxiety had a 29 per cent increased risk of dying from heart disease and stroke over a decade than those who did not.
In addition, they had a 29 per cent increased risk of dying from 'external causes', like road accidents and suicide.
Lead author of the study, Dr Tom Russ from Edinburgh University, said that stress altered the physiology of the body to make it less healthy and more vulnerable to heart attack and stroke. He said:
“It’s early days, but there’s growing interest in potential physiological changes associated with both distress and cardiovascular pathology.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: "This research highlights the importance of seeking help for mental health problems as soon as they become apparent, as early intervention leads to much better health outcomes all round."
At the same time, data from the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care show that the number of anti-depressant prescriptions being issued in England has risen by almost 10 per cent in just a year.
The researchers believe that alternative treatments to medication should be investigated as the cases of mild anxiety and depression increase.
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