Pandemic depression and anxiety increase heart disease risk, study finds

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  • A study assessed subjects' depression levels before and during the pandemic.
  • Depression scores were higher during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Higher anxiety and depression rates lead to more emergency room visits.

New research has found that depression and anxiety rates were higher during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to more visits to the emergency department (ED) to treat anxiety and related chest pain. The study by Intermountain Healthcare in the United States examined the link between mental health disorders and the risk of heart disease.

The researchers assessed 4 633 patients who completed depression screening before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. They defined "before" as from 1 March 2019 to 29 February 2020, and "during" from 1 March 2020 to 20 April 2021.

The participants were divided into two groups. The first group consisted of people "without depression" or "no longer depressed" and the second of people who "remained depressed" or "became depressed".

The researchers conducted assessments for follow-up emergency department visits for anxiety and chest pain.

Increased depression increased heart risk

The study findings show that depression scores in depressed patients were higher during the pandemic than before. Depression was also linked to increased ED visits for anxiety.

The research shows the incidence of ED visits for anxiety were 2.8 times greater in test subjects with depression than in those without depression, and 1.8 times greater for anxiety with chest pains, compared to non-depressed participants. 

"These findings are significant. In looking at the first year of the pandemic, we are already seeing the mental health effects on our patients. We already know that depression raises a person's risk for developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic health problems, so this is very concerning and highlights the importance of screening patients and providing the mental health resources that they need," said Dr Heidi May, the principal investigator of the study in a statement.

May said that a longer follow-up study is needed to determine the potential long-term effects of the pandemic may have on mental health.

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