Woman sitting in front of laptop with head in hands to illustrate depression
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A study led by Yale University School of Medicine shows a significant link between prenatal depression and subsequent cardiovascular disease.

The study was reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association and showed women who were depressed during pregnancy had a 32–83% increased risk of developing some form of cardiovascular disease in the two years after giving birth compared with those who were not depressed.

“We need to use pregnancy as a window to future health,” said lead study author Christina Ackerman-Banks, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology-maternal fetal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, in a press statement.

“Complications during pregnancy, including prenatal depression, impact long-term cardiovascular health. The postpartum period provides an opportunity to counsel and screen people for cardiovascular disease in order to prevent these outcomes.”

Depression has been linked to cardiovascular disease before, but not in pregnant women. The current study was a longitudinal population‐based study including 119,422 pregnant women who delivered their babies between 2007 and 2019. Of this group, 21.6% experienced depression during pregnancy.

The team looked at rates of a number of different cardiovascular outcomes over a 24-month period after birth. They found that prenatal depression increased the risk for ischemic heart disease, arrhythmia/cardiac arrest, cardiomyopathy, and new hypertension by 83%, 60%, 61%, and 32%, respectively, compared with no depression during pregnancy after adjusting for potential confounding factors such as maternal age and previous history of depression or cardiovascular disease risk factors such as hypertension.

“I recommend that anyone diagnosed with prenatal depression be aware of the implications on their long-term cardiovascular health, take steps to screen for other risk factors and consult with their primary care doctor in order to implement prevention strategies for cardiovascular disease,” Ackerman-Banks said. “They should also be screened for type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, and implement an exercise regimen, healthy diet and quit smoking.”

The authors caution that although the study was large, the diagnoses data they collected was from medical claims and could therefore not be confirmed. The study also did not take into account ethnicity and physical activity levels, which could impact cardiovascular disease risk.

“Future prospective interventional studies are needed to examine possible pharmacotherapeutic and lifestyle interventions that can target comorbid prenatal depression and cardiovascular disease in the pregnant and postpartum population,” write the authors.

“Further research to confirm our findings and identify the causal pathway for these associations is critical to inform recommendations for cardiovascular screening and prevention during the postpartum period for patients with prenatal depression.”

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