Heart disease does not discriminate against its victims. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women. A new study suggests that depression can increase one’s risk of death from heart disease complications. Interestingly, though, this increased risk was only observed to occur in women aged 55 and under suffering from moderate to severe cases of depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four deaths in America is caused by heart disease. In an effort to better understand this extremely fatal condition, a group of researchers documented the disease's effect on women with moderate to severe depression. The study, which is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, included women aged 55 and under. Dr. Amit Shah, an author from the study, described this age group as “more likely to have depression,” according to a press release.

Results showed that women in this age group increased their heart disease risks in ways that didn’t seem to exist in men or older women. Moderately to severely depressed women aged 55 and under were 2.17 times more likely to suffer from a heart attack, die of heart disease, or need a complicated artery-opening surgery. Women in this category were also found to be 2.45 times as likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period. Based on these figures, Shah concluded that depression may be a “‘hidden’ risk factor that can help explain why women die at disproportionately higher rates than men after a heart attack,” the press release reported.

Shah hopes that the results from this study will give all people even more of a reason to get their depression treated as early as possible. "All people, and especially younger women, need to take depression very seriously," Shah said. "Depression itself is a reason to take action, but knowing that it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death should motivate people to seek help." Shah also believes that the study will inspire health providers to properly screen young women for depression seeing that this group “has largely been understudied before.” Health providers must understand that women at high risk for depression are also at a high risk for developing serious heart complications.

Depression has been listed as a risk factor for heart disease in all individuals since 2008. Unfortunately heart disease and depression are often seen occurring at the same time in the same patients. “What we can say with certainty is that depression and heart disease often occur together,” Dr. Roy Ziegelstein, executive vice chairman of the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, explained. It can also work vice-versa. Heart disease is known to increase a patients risk for developing depression. Many patients with no history of heart disease will understandably become depressed for the first time after developing cardiovascular disease.

Source: Shah A, Vaccarino V, Quyyumi A, et al. Sex and Age Differences in the Association of Depression With Obstructive Coronary Artery Disease and Adverse Cardiovascular Events. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2014.