Depression sufferers at risk of multiple chronic diseases

Summary: Women who experience depression have an increased risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Source: University of Queensland

Women who experience symptoms of depression are at risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, research led by The University of Queensland has found.

UQ School of Public Health PhD scholar Xiaolin Xu said women who experienced symptoms of depression, even without a clinical diagnosis, were at risk of developing multiple chronic diseases.

“These days, many people suffer from multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer,” Mr Xu said.

“We looked at how women progress in the development of these chronic diseases before and after the onset of depressive symptoms.”

The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health followed healthy, middle-aged women with no previous diagnosis of depression or chronic illness over 20 years.

The study found 43.2 per cent of women experienced elevated symptoms of depression and just under half the cohort reported they were diagnosed or taking treatment for depression.

Women from the depressed group were 1.8 times more likely to have multiple chronic health conditions before they first experienced depressive symptoms.

“Experiencing depressive symptoms appeared to amplify the risk of chronic illness,” Mr Xu said.

“After women started experiencing these symptoms, they were 2.4 times more likely to suffer from multiple chronic conditions compared to women without depressive symptoms.”

The research suggests depression and chronic diseases share a similar genetic or biological pathway.

“Inflammation in the body has been linked to the development of both depression and chronic physical diseases,” he said.

“Chronic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension, are also commonly associated with depression.”

These findings help strengthen healthcare professionals understanding of mental and physical health.

This shows a depressed woman
The research suggests depression and chronic diseases share a similar genetic or biological pathway. The image is in the public domain.

“Healthcare professionals need to know that clinical and sub-clinical depression (elevated depressive symptoms) can be linked to other chronic physical conditions,” he said.

“When treating patients for these symptoms, healthcare professionals must realise these people are at risk of developing further chronic illness.”

Women with both conditions were more likely to come from low-income households, be overweight and inactive, smoke tobacco and drink alcohol.

“Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and reducing harmful behaviours could help prevent and slow the progression of multiple chronic diseases.”

This research was led by UQ PhD student Xiaolin Xu and School of Public Health Professor Gita Mishra.

About this neuroscience research article

University of Queensland
Media Contacts:
Faculty of Medicine Communications – University of Queensland
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“Depressive symptoms and the development and progression of physical multimorbidity in a national cohort of Australian women”. Xu, Xiaolin,Mishra, Gita D.,Jones, Mark.
American Psychological Association Health Psychology journal. doi:10.1037/hea0000738


Depressive symptoms and the development and progression of physical multimorbidity in a national cohort of Australian women

Objective: Multiple chronic physical conditions (physical multimorbidity) are common in people with depression. This study investigated the association between elevated depressive symptoms and the development and progression of physical multimorbidity in middle-aged women.

Methods: A total of 7,407 women aged 45–50 years were followed up from 1996 to 2016. These women were free from diagnosed depression or chronic physical conditions at baseline. Data on depressive symptoms and chronic physical conditions were updated every 3 years, with depressive symptoms assessed using the Center for Epidemiological Studies–Depression scale. A 1-to-1 matched cohort analysis was conducted to compare the cumulative incidence and odds of physical multimorbidity between women with (depressed cohort) and women without (nondepressed cohort) elevated depressive symptoms, adjusted for sociodemographic and health behavioral factors.

Results: Over 20 years of follow-up, 3,199 women (43.2%) reported elevated depressive symptoms. Of these, 2,035 (63.6%) developed physical multimorbidity. After the onset of elevated depressive symptoms, women had a more than 4-fold increase in cumulative incidence of multimorbidity. Compared with the nondepressed cohort, the odds of the depressed cohort developing multimorbidity before the onset of depressive symptoms was 1.81 (95% confidence interval = 1.49, 2.20). After the onset of depressive symptoms, the odds ratio was 2.38 (95% confidence interval = 2.20, 2.57).

Conclusions: Elevated depressive symptoms were common in women’s midlife. Women with elevated depressive symptoms had increased odds of physical multimorbidity both before and after the onset of depressive symptoms. These findings support the emerging integrated management and prevention of mental and physical multimorbidity.

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