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Screen Depressed Teens for Heart Disease, Experts Say

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Depressed and stressed university student. Janine Wiedel / Getty Images stock

Depression and bipolar disease can put teens at a significantly higher risk of heart disease, so adolescents with mood disorders need to get extra screening, the American Heart Association said Monday.

Having depression or bipolar disease can mean anyone eats poorly and fails to exercise properly – both of which can raise heart disease risks. But even independently of this, depression and bipolar disease can raise the risks, a Heart Association review found.

So it's issuing new guidelines saying doctors need to keep an eye on even the youngest patients with these two mood disorders.

“These disorders indicate an increased risk of heart disease that requires increased vigilance and action at the earliest possible stage,” said Dr. Benjamin Goldstein, a child-adolescent psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto in Canada.

“Youth with mood disorders are not yet widely recognized as a group at increased risk for excessive and early heart disease. We hope these guidelines will spur action from patients, families and healthcare providers to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among these youth,” added Goldstein, who led the team writing the new guidelines.

“Youth with mood disorders are not yet widely recognized as a group at increased risk for excessive and early heart disease."

The group reviewed several studies on depression, heart disease and adolescents. Major depression and bipolar disease, formerly known as manic-depression, are common: they affect about 10 percent of U.S. teens.

Youths with these two disorders were also much more likely than most of their peers to have high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, obesity, type-2 diabetes and damaged arteries, the review found.

“Excessive inflammation could underlie some of the association of depression,” the researchers wrote. Inflammation – inappropriately heightened immune system activity – is linked with both heart disease and cancer. It’s also linked with depression, although researchers are not sure if depression causes inflammation or the other way around.

Some of the drugs used to treat depression can cause weight gain, which in turn can raise blood pressure, raise cholesterol and blood sugar levels and cause inflammation. But most of the teens in the studies were not being treated with drugs, the researchers said.

Either way, doctors need to pay extra attention to the heart risks of teens with depression and bipolar disease, the researchers said.