In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that strokes were rising dramatically among young and middle-aged Americans. In 2009, 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke were under the age of 65. Depression may have been a contributing factor.
Women aged 47 to 52 years old and depressed were about twice as likely to have a stroke than women that age without depression, according to a new report.
"Be open with your doctor about your mental health."
Caroline Jackson, PhD, an epidemiologist in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia, co-authored the study with Gita Mishra, PhD, professor of Life Course Epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Queensland.
In a 12-year Australian study of 10,547 middle-aged women, the researchers found that after eliminating several factors that increase stroke risks, depressed women had a 1.9-fold increased risk of stroke compared to women who were not depressed.
Dr. Jackson and her colleagues analyzed survey results from the nationally representative Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Participants answered questions about their mental and physical health and other personal details every three years from 1998 to 2010.
About one in four of the women were found to be depressed, based on their responses to a standardized depression scale and their recent use of antidepressants. Self-reported responses and death records revealed 177 first-time strokes occurred during the study.
Dr. Jackson noted that the absolute risk of stroke is still fairly low for this age group. About 2.1 percent of American women in their 40s and 50s suffer from stroke.
In this study, only about 1.5 percent of all women had a stroke, but that number increased to slightly more than 2 percent among women suffering from depression.
“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 Dr. Jackson. “Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression.”
Investigators are not certain why depression may be strongly linked to stroke in this age group. Dr. Jackson commented that the body’s inflammatory and immunological processes and their effects on our blood vessels may be part of the reasons.
“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.
May is Stroke Awareness Month, and the CDC encourages people to know other factors that may help prevent stroke. The CDC focuses on the ABCS of heart disease and stroke prevention—appropriate Aspirin therapy, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol control and Smoking cessation.
The CDC also recommends exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet that is low sodium, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing and controlling diabetes and limiting alcohol intake.
The study was published in May in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.