Women diagnosed with perinatal depression are significantly more likely to develop heart disease within 20 years of giving birth compared to those without perinatal depression, according to new research.

Perinatal depression, occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth, affects approximately one in five women globally.

A study published in the European Heart Journal examined cardiovascular health following perinatal depression, using data from about 600,000 women. It found strong associations with risks of high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and heart failure.

The research, led by Dr. Emma Bränn, Dr. Donghao Lu, and their team at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, builds on previous findings linking perinatal depression to other health issues, including premenstrual disorders, autoimmune conditions, suicidal behavior, and premature death.

“Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, and there’s been ongoing discussion about incorporating reproductive health into risk assessments for women,” said Dr. Lu.

“We wanted to determine if a history of perinatal depression could help predict cardiovascular disease risk,” added Dr. Bränn, the study’s senior author.

Using the Swedish Medical Birth Register, which records all births in Sweden, the researchers compared 55,539 women diagnosed with perinatal depression between 2001 and 2014 with 545,567 women who gave birth during the same period but did not have perinatal depression.

All participants were monitored until 2020 for the development of cardiovascular disease. The study found that 6.4% of women with perinatal depression developed cardiovascular disease, compared to 3.7% of those without, indicating a 36% higher risk for those with perinatal depression.

Specifically, the risk of high blood pressure was about 50% higher, ischemic heart disease 37% higher, and heart failure 36% higher.

“Our findings could help identify individuals at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, allowing for preventative measures,” said Dr. Bränn.

Researchers also compared women with perinatal depression to their sisters, finding a 20% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, suggesting potential genetic or familial factors.