Chronic Depression Doubles Stroke Risk
Chronic depression in older people can significantly increase their risk of stroke, concludes a new study from the Harvard University School of Public Health.
Researchers examined 12 years of data from health interviews for 16,178 U.S. adults who were 50 and older. The interviews were given every two years, with an average follow-up of nine years. The data allowed the scientists to monitor strokes and mental health changes over time.
During the study, 1,192 strokes occurred among subjects. Shortly after developing depression, participants had a slightly increased risk of stroke, though this may only be due to chance. However, if depression lasted for four years, the risk of stroke nearly doubled compared with people who didn’t have depression.
While previous research has shown a connection between stroke and depression, this study provides new evidence that current mental health treatments such as counseling and medications may not fully address the stroke risks associated with psychological problems.
For study participants whose depression improved, their stroke risk over two years remained about as high as those who remained chronically depressed.
The researchers suggest that data could be affected by the participants’ ability to recall and report strokes and depression symptoms. Additionally, further research is needed to determine types of strokes, severity of strokes, and details pertaining to psychiatric medications participants may have been taking.
With depression affecting an estimated 350 million people worldwide and strokes among the leading causes of death, the study underscores the importance of investigating potential links between the two. The research team next hopes to examine biological changes such as inflammation, which can be a symptom of depression that may increase stroke risk.