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Study: Depression Doubles Stroke Risk in Middle-Aged Women

Researchers call for greater awareness of depression as preventable risk factor for stroke (May 16)

Depressed middle-aged women have almost double the risk of having a stroke, according to research published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

In a 12-year Australian study of 10,547 middle-aged women (47 to 52 years old), researchers found that depressed women had a 2.4 times greater risk of stroke compared with those who weren’t depressed. Even after researchers eliminated several factors that increase the risk of stroke, depressed women were still 1.9 times more likely to have a stroke.

“When treating women, doctors need to recognize the serious nature of poor mental health and what effects it can have in the long term,” said author Caroline Jackson, PhD. “Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression.”

This is the first large-scale study in which researchers examined the association between depression and stroke in younger middle-aged women. The closest comparison is with the U.S.-based Nurses’ Health Study, which found a 30% higher risk of stroke among depressed women. However, the average participant’s age in the Nurses’ study was 14 years older.

Although the increased stroke risk associated with depression was large in the Australian study, the absolute risk of stroke is still fairly low for this age group, Jackson said. About 2.1% of American women in their 40s and 50s experience a stroke. In the study, only about 1.5% of all women had a stroke. That number increased to slightly more than 2% among women with depression.

Similar results could be expected among American and European women, Jackson said.

“We may need more targeted approaches to prevent and treat depression among younger women, because it could have a much stronger impact on stroke for them now rather than later in life,” she said.

It’s still unclear why depression may be strongly linked to stroke in this age group. The body’s inflammatory and immunological processes and their effects on blood vessels may be part of the reasons, she said.

Source: American Heart Association; May 16, 2013.

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