Many studies have linked depression to increased risk for heart events like heart attack and stroke, highlighting the importance of treatment. By diagnosing and treating mental illnesses like depression, experts hope to prevent life-threatening heart events and improve outcomes for patients with heart conditions. An important question emerges: What are the health risks associated with depression, even after symptoms have subsided?
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, which surveys a sample of U.S. adults every two years. First launched in 1992, this study has collected useful information from thousands of Americans on factors like income, health insurance, physical functioning and mental health.
According to research published recently in Circulation, more than 16,000 adults over 50 years old were included in the study. All participants completed health questionnaires between 1998 and 2010. During this period, patients reported whether or not they had symptoms of depression, such as feeling lonely and sad. Adults with three or more of these symptoms were considered to have high depressive symptoms, and in many cases, the presence of symptoms varied over the 12-year study period. Researchers also tracked outcomes during this time to see how many participants suffered a stroke—the third leading cause of death in the United States.
After analysis, investigators found that patients reporting high symptoms of depression over the study period had twice the stroke risk compared to patients with consistently low or no depressive symptoms. Even if patients’ symptoms faded over time, patients reporting high depressive symptoms at any time had 66% greater risk of stroke than those who never had symptoms of depression. Researchers also noted that the link between depressive symptoms and stroke risk was especially strong among women.
Study findings confirm that there is a strong association between depression and risk for stroke. Although mental health is often overlooked when it comes to cardiovascular risk, it’s becoming increasingly clear that conditions like depression are linked to poorer heart health. In fact, this study suggests that even having a history of depression may put patients at increased risk for conditions like stroke.
The good news, however, is that risk of stroke decreases as symptoms of depression subside. Although patients with a history of depression may still have increased risk of stroke compared to those without depressive symptoms, reducing symptoms may help decrease cardiovascular risk. As authors explain, findings highlight the need for increased screening for mental health and better treatment for conditions like depression.