Stroke risk doubled in patients with depression, GPs warned

GPs should monitor stroke risk in patients with recurring depression even if they no longer have symptoms, research suggests.

Stroke: coloured PET scan of a stroke patient's brain (Photo: Science Photo Library)
Stroke: coloured PET scan of a stroke patient's brain (Photo: Science Photo Library)

Patients over 50 with recurring depression are almost twice as likely to have a stroke, researchers found.

Depression should be considered a major stroke risk and should be treated as soon as possible to prevent stroke, the researchers said.

‘This study … suggests that clinicians should seek to identify and treat depressive symptoms as early as possible relative to their onset, before adverse consequences begin to accumulate,’ the authors wrote in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Persistent stroke risk

The researchers looked at data from more than 16,000 people over 50 who had been interviewed as part of the Health and Retirement study.

Patients with symptoms of depression lasting for four years were twice as likely to have a stroke, the researchers found. Overall, patients with depressive symptoms were two-thirds more likely to have a stroke, with the effect found to be stronger in women.

Even if treatment for depression is effective, increased stroke risk is likely to persist, the researchers say.

‘We were surprised that changes in depressive symptoms seem to take more than two years to protect against or elevate stroke risk,’ said Paola Gilsanz, study lead author at Harvard University.

Heart trigger

Recent onset of depression, or changes in depressive symptoms, did not seem to be linked to the likelihood of stroke.

The study did not investigate possible causes of the link, but depression may trigger underlying heart problems such as atrial fibrillation and infection, which is compounded by a lack of physical activity during depressive periods.

‘Although we now know that depression strongly predicts stroke on par with many other major stroke risk factors, we still need research to understand exactly why this link occurs and whether we can potentially reduce stroke risk by treating depression,’ said Maria Glymour, study senior author from the University of California.

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