advertisement

Heart Health

Updated 17 September 2020

Anxious teens may face higher odds for future heart attack

Men diagnosed with anxiety or depression in their late teens had a 20% higher risk of heart attack than those who didn't, a study showed.

  • Signs of stress, depression or anxiety beyond the normal teenage angst may predict future heart problems in men
  • In a study, lower physical fitness was associated with poorer mental health 
  • Fitness in youth, which is sustained into middle age is, therefore, likely to protect against heart disease


Middle-aged men who were anxious or depressed teens are at increased risk for heart attack, according to a large, long-term study.

It included more than 238 000 men born between 1952 and 1956 who underwent extensive exams when they were 18 or 19 years old and were followed to age 58.

Men diagnosed with anxiety or depression in their late teens had a 20% higher risk of heart attack than those who didn't, the study showed.

'Be vigilant'

The findings only reflect an association. The link was partly, but not fully, explained by poorer ability to cope with everyday stress and lower physical fitness in teens with the mental health conditions, according to findings presented at a virtual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

The takeaway: "Be vigilant and look for signs of stress, depression or anxiety that is beyond the normal teenage angst: Seek help if there seems to be a persistent problem," suggested study author Cecilia Bergh, a senior lecturer in health sciences at Orebro University in Sweden.

"If a healthy lifestyle is encouraged as early as possible in childhood and adolescence it is more likely to persist into adulthood and improve long-term health," she said in a meeting news release.

Bergh said researchers already knew that men who were physically fit but stressed as teens seemed less likely to maintain fitness.

Strategies to deal with stress

"Our previous research has also shown that low stress resilience is also coupled with a greater tendency towards addictive behaviour, signalled by higher risks of smoking, alcohol consumption and other drug use," she noted.

Better fitness in youth is likely to protect against heart disease, particularly if people stay fit as they age, Bergh said, adding that exercise may also alleviate negative consequences of stress.

"This is relevant to all adolescents, but those with poorer well-being could benefit from additional support to encourage exercise and to develop strategies to deal with stress," she said.

Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Image credit: iStock