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Oct 06, 2011

Depression Can Increase Risk for Stroke

Mental health closely linked to cardiovascular risk.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 150,000 people each year and inflicting serious, long-term disability in hundreds of thousands more. Thanks to continued research, however, we know more than ever about reducing risk for stroke. Most importantly, reducing and controlling blood pressure can help prevent stroke, in addition to quitting smoking, reducing cholesterol levels, controlling diabetes, improving diet and increasing physical activity. But research has continued to show that depression, which may increase risk for diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, may also significantly increase risk for stroke.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated the relationship between depression and stroke by analyzing data from 28 research studies, encompassing more than 315,000 participants. Researchers found that depression may increase overall risk for stroke by 45%, risk for fatal stroke by 55% and risk for ischemic stroke by 25% in comparison with those reporting no depressive symptoms. These findings add to a body of research suggesting that depression increases risk for stroke, among other cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular conditions.

Based on findings, it is important that patients with depression seek treatment for their condition, especially those with other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. It is estimated that nearly 1/6 of Americans suffer from depression during their lifetime, with 5-10% of the population experiencing depression during a 12-month period. Combined with increased rates of obesity and diabetes, high rates of depression may help significantly contribute to cardiovascular risk, especially when untreated.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does depression increase risk for stroke?

  • The exact cause of increased risk for stroke with depression is unknown. However, it is clear that there are links between mental health and risk for a variety of health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. It is possible that depression makes the body increasingly susceptible to these conditions, and/or that having a positive mental state helps protect against these negative effects.
  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.

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