JUN 07, 2016 2:50 PM PDT

Teenage Suicide Increases Risk for Heart Disease

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
For teenagers who attempt suicide, how do doctors approach assessing their health during the aftermath? Researchers are finding that it is more than just mental health that health professionals should worry about. A new study from the American Psychological Association shows that teenagers who attempt suicide or know someone close to them who attempts suicide are at a higher risk for developing heart disease later in life.

"Suicide attempts in teenage boys are less common than in teenage girls, but they may signal a more serious risk for later physical health problems," said lead author Lilly Shanahan, PhD. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year.

In a study of eight thousand people across the country from initiative called the Add Health Survey beginning in 1994, researchers followed middle and high school students for 13 years They collected information on any suicide attempts by the participants or by people in their social community four times over the length of the study. During the fourth round of data collection, the researchers also gathered information about blood pressure, height, weight, low-grade systemic inflammation, as well as other lifestyle details.

Ten percent of the study’s participants shared with the researchers that they had attempted suicide at least once. Additionally, forty percent of the participants knew a family member or friend who had attempted suicide. The study researchers also controlled for education levels, social and economic adversity, and behavioral issues when analyzing their results.

The results showed that teenage males who attempted suicide experienced high blood pressure and systemic low-grade inflammation later in life, while teenage females who knew a friend or family member who attempted suicide were affected later by large weight gain and also high blood pressure.

Unlike males, female suicide attempts did not show to be significantly significant to an increased risk for heart disease. 

What’s causing this increased risk? The researchers believe a combination of experiences that are common to people who attempt suicide or know someone close to them who attempts suicide could be increasing their risk:
  • Increased stigma
  • Social isolation
  • Unhealthy behaviors
  • Fewer educational and job accomplishments 
Researchers have a lot more work to complete before they can present a causative relationship between a history of suicide attempts and an increased risk of heart disease later in life. While this study remains a representation of the correlation between these two events, it is clear that doctors should consider more the physical health of their patients who attempt suicide. 

Source: American Psychological Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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