New research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020 has found that depression or anxiety in adolescence is linked with a 20% greater likelihood of having a heart attack mid-life, according to a press release.

The study evaluated whether conditions such as depression in adolescence are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. In addition, the researchers examined the possible role of stress resilience in helping to explain any associations.

The study included 238,013 men born between 1952 and 1956 who underwent extensive examinations in late adolescence as part of their assessment for compulsory military service and were then followed into middle age, or up to 58 years of age, according to the study.

The assessments at 18 and 19 years of age included medical, psychiatric, and physical examinations by physicians and psychologists. Further, stress resilience was measured by an interview with a psychologist and a questionnaire, and was based on familial, medical, social, behavioral, and personality characteristics.

A total of 34,503 men were diagnosed with a non-psychotic mental disorder at conscription, with follow-up for cardiovascular disease being conducted through hospital medical records, according to the study.

The results showed that a mental disorder in adolescence was associated with the risk of having a myocardial infarction by middle age. The risk of myocardial infarction was 20% higher among men with a diagnosis compared to men without a mental illness in adolescence, even after taking into account other characteristics, such as blood pressure, body mass index, general health, and parental socioeconomic status.

“We already knew that men who were physically fit in adolescence seem less likely to maintain fitness in later years if they have low stress resilience,” said study author Cecilia Bergh, MD, in a press release. “Our previous research has also shown that low stress resilience is also coupled with a greater tendency towards addictive behavior, signaled by higher risks of smoking, alcohol consumption and other drug use.” 

Further, Bergh added that better fitness in adolescence is likely to help protect against later heart disease, particularly if people stay fit as they age. Physical activity may also alleviate some of the negative consequences of stress, according to Bergh.

Depressed or anxious teens risk heart attacks in middle age. European Society of Cardiology. Published August 26, 2020. Accessed September 1, 2020.