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Depression Not Linked to Increased Risk of Stroke

New study clarifies relationship between distress, depression, and stroke risk.

by  Teri Robert

Studies have shown that stroke often leads to depression, but the evidence from those studies has been mixed as to whether depression could lead to stroke. Now, according to a study published in the March 4, 2008, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, psychological distress, but not depression, may increase the risk of stroke.

“Stroke is among the leading causes of long-term disability and death worldwide... Understanding the mechanisms by which overall emotional health may increase stroke risk may inform stroke prevention and help identify those at increased stroke risk.”

study author Paul Surtees, PhD

Researchers studied 20,627 people who had never suffered a stroke for an average of 8.5 years. Participants answered questions concerning their psychological distress, based on a scale measuring well-being and their history of major depressive disorder. During the course of the study...

  • 595 participants suffered a stroke.
  • 28 percent of the 595 strokes were fatal.
  • For every one standard deviation lower that participants scored on the mental well-being scale, their risk of stroke increased by 11 percent after adjustment for smoking; systolic blood pressure (upper number); cholesterol level; obesity; other conditions such as preexisting myocardial infarction, diabetes; social class; education; hypertension treatment, family history of stroke; and use of antidepressants.
  • The association between increased emotional distress and stroke risk was consistent between men and women, for fatal and nonfatal stroke.

Researchers found that psychological distress was associated with an increased risk of stroke and that the risk of stroke increased the more distress the participants reported. This association remained the same regardless of cigarette smoking, systolic blood pressure, overall blood cholesterol, obesity, previous heart attack, diabetes, social class, education, high blood pressure treatment, family history of stroke and recent antidepressant medication use.

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