The negative effects of anxiety and depression to the human body are equal to unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking.

A new study warns that mental health issues might be leading predictors of a range of health issues from heart disease and high blood pressure to headaches or upset stomach.

Anxiety And Depression Causing Health Concerns

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco Department of Psychiatry observed the health of more than 15,000 adults over four years. Of the participating patients, 16 percent or 2,225 suffered from high levels of anxiety and depression, 31 percent or 4,737 were obese, and 14 percent or 2,125 were smokers.

They found that patients with high levels of anxiety and depression are 65 percent more likely to develop a heart condition, 64 percent more likely to have a stroke, 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, and 87 percent more likely to have arthritis.

"These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese," stated Aoife O'Donovan, from UCSF Department of Psychiatry and the San Francisco VA Medical Center. "However, for arthritis, high anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity."

The authors did not find a link between high levels of anxiety and depression and cancer incidence. Their study confirms findings from other previous papers that psychological distress is not a strong predictor of many types of cancer despite what many patients believe.

The Importance Of Treating Mental Health Issues

The researchers said that their findings highlight the long-term effects of untreated anxiety and depression. They hoped that this will lead health care professionals to start paying attention to mental health issues as predictors of major illnesses.

"Anxiety and depression symptoms are strongly linked to poor physical health, yet these conditions continue to receive limited attention in primary care settings, compared to smoking and obesity," explained Andrea Niles, first author of the study.

O'Donovan also added that treating mental health disorders can save money for the health care systems in the United States.

The findings were published in the journal Health Psychology on Monday, Dec. 17. The data in the original study used for this research were self-reported and, therefore, is difficult to verify.

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