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  1. Gaffey, Allison E. PhD
  2. Gathright, Emily C. PhD, FAACVPR
  3. Fletcher, Lauren M. MLIS, MA
  4. Goldstein, Carly M. PhD, FAACVPR


Background: Psychological distress-elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or psychosocial stress-has been associated with risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Despite increasing attention to the importance of these factors for CVD prevention, the state of this science requires updated synthesis to enable practice recommendations. Moreover, it is unknown whether psychological distress based on screeners, validated self-report instruments that efficiently identify those who may require mental health services or additional support, is associated with incident CVD.


Methods: MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycInfo were searched for studies published 2017-2022, including adults without a past psychiatric diagnosis, who were screened at baseline for depression, anxiety, PTSD, stress, or general mental health symptoms, and followed for >6 mo to determine their risk for incident CVD (ie, atrial fibrillation, acute coronary syndrome, coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure, or a composite). A meta-analysis was used to aggregate results to determine whether clinically significant levels of psychological distress were associated with CVD onset.


Results: The search identified 28 investigations that represented 658 331 participants (58% women). Fifteen studies had adequate data for the primary meta-analysis, which indicated that those reporting high psychological distress showed a 28% greater risk of incident CVD compared with those with low or no distress.


Conclusions: Rapid screening for psychological distress is a helpful and efficient approach to understanding the CVD risk profile of an individual. Additional investigations are needed to improve prospective evidence concerning psychosocial stress. Conducting analyses by sex may better elucidate the benefits of psychological distress screening for men and women, respectively, and encourage more widespread adoption in CVD prevention.