Depression and coronary heart disease are often comorbid conditions, but the mechanism behind this link is largely unknown. We tested the hypothesis that a high level of depressive symptoms in healthy young adults would be related to more prevalent preclinical atherosclerosis.
We studied the association between depressive symptoms and carotid atherosclerosis in 1126 young adults (410 men and 716 women) as part of the ongoing population-based Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. The participants responded to a revised version of Beck's Depression Inventory in 1992, 1997, and 2001. Carotid atherosclerosis was assessed by measuring the thickness of the common carotid artery intima-media complex with ultrasound in 2001. Cardiovascular risk factors were measured in childhood/adolescence (1980) and in adulthood (2001).
In men, high scorers of depressive symptoms in 2001 had higher carotid artery intima-media thickness (0.63 mm) compared with those with low or moderate scores on depressive symptoms (0.57 mm). This relationship (B = 0.08, F[1, 405] = 9.24, p = .003) persisted after adjustment for age and cardiovascular risk factors in adolescence and adulthood. Depression scores in 1992 and 1997 were not predictive of intima-media thickness. In women, no association was found between depressive symptoms and intima-media thickness.
Depressive symptoms during early adulthood seem to be associated with higher levels of carotid intima-media thickness in men, but not in women.