Harvard Women's Health Watch

Depression and cardiovascular risk in women

Evidence suggests that depression is a treatable risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Harvard Women's Health Watch readers probably know that the leading cause of death in women is cardiovascular disease (CVD) — that is, heart disease and stroke. Nearly 43 million women in the United States have some form of CVD, and every year, nearly 422,000 die of it — that's more than succumb annually to all forms of cancer combined. Heart disease and stroke are also major causes of life-altering disabilities.

Several behaviors and conditions increase the risk of developing CVD — smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Physicians routinely screen their patients for these modifiable risk factors and recommend ways to address them. Now, there's mounting evidence that depression should be added to this list. Research suggests that it increases the chances of developing heart disease and stroke, even after factors such as smoking are taken into account. Two investigations highlight the relationship between depression and CVD in postmenopausal women.

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