Having depression during pregnancy or after giving birth raises heart disease risk in women, a new study revealed.

Researchers noted that perinatal depression in women elevates the likelihood of cardiovascular disease for up to two decades, compared to women who have not experienced such depressive episodes during pregnancy or after childbirth.

The study, which analyzed data from approximately 600,000 women, identified the most significant associations with elevated risks of high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and heart failure.

"Our research group has already found that perinatal depression is linked to an increased risk of several other health issues, including premenstrual disorders, autoimmune disorders, and suicidal behavior, as well as premature death," Dr. Donghao Lu, who co-led the research, said in a news release.

"Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death globally and there has been an ongoing discussion about including reproductive health when assessing the risk among women. We wanted to know if a history of perinatal depression could help predict cardiovascular disease risk," Dr. Lu explained.

The researchers compared two groups of Swedish women who had given birth between 2001 and 2014: 55,539 women who were diagnosed with perinatal depression and 545,567 women who did not have depression. The participants were then followed up through to 2020 to see if they developed any cardiovascular disease.

The researchers noted that women who experienced perinatal depression had a 36% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to those who did not. Additionally, they faced a roughly 50% increased risk of high blood pressure, a 37% higher risk of ischemic heart disease, and about a 36% higher risk of heart failure.

"Our findings may help identify people who are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease so that steps can be taken to reduce this risk. This study also adds to the established health risks of perinatal depression. We know that perinatal depression is both preventable and treatable, and for many people it's the first episode of depression they've ever experienced. Our findings provide more reason for ensuring maternal care is holistic, with equal attention on both physical and mental health," said Dr. Emma Bränn, who co-led the study.

The researchers have not looked into how perinatal depression leads to heart disease. However, when they compared women with perinatal depression to their sisters, they found a 20% higher risk of heart disease, suggesting the role of potential genetic factors.

"There could also be other factors involved, as is the case for the link between other forms of depression and cardiovascular disease. These include alterations in the immune system, oxidative stress and lifestyle changes implicated in major depression," Dr. Bränn said.