Depression has long been recognized as a risk factor for stroke but, until recently, researchers believed that patients who were relieved of their depressions symptoms could also benefit from a lessened stroke risk. New findings suggest that may not be the case.
According to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, a history of depression more than doubled an individual’s risk for stroke after age 50, even if they no longer experienced depression symptoms.
Though behavioral health factors like depression, stress, and anxiety have been linked to major health issues like heart disease and high blood pressure, Giampaolo Gallo, MD, a psychiatrist at Main Line Health and the Medical Director of Mirmont Treatment Center, says this study is key in helping patients and physicians better understand stroke risk factors.
“To find that depression—whether it’s occurring presently or has occurred at any other point during a patient’s life—can be so closely linked to stroke risk is very important for both patients and physicians to understand and take note of,” he says.
The research found that both men’s and women’s stroke risk were affected by depression, but women were slightly more affected than men. The statistics aren’t surprising, as women are also more likely to be affected by depression than their male counterparts.
“Physical health has always been and will continue to be an important indicator of stroke risk, but now it’s especially important to consider emotional health, as well, particularly for women,” explains Arie Hallowell, nurse manager of Neuro-Cardiac ICU (NCICU) at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “Women who have experienced depression earlier in their life, even during or after their pregnancy, may be at a higher risk for stroke, and it’s important for them to understand this is nothing to be ashamed of, and to disclose this information to their physicians.”
Although the latest study finds a link between depression and stroke, Dr. Gallo reminds patients that it has yet to prove the source of that link. Preliminary studies suggest that the increased stroke risk could be due to the behaviors often adopted by those who are affected by depression, such as less exercise, poor nutrition, and tobacco use. Together, these habits can contribute to stroke risk.
Whatever the reason, Dr. Gallo says what’s most important is that patients and physicians continue to take depression seriously as a risk factor.
"A history of depression should be an extra clinical reason to be more aggressive in monitoring and treating the other risk factors of stroke in order to minimize a patient's overall risk," he explains.
Although some patients may be embarrassed to admit that they have struggled with depression, or feel like they don't need to disclose that it is something that they have dealt with in the past, Dr. Gallo urges patients to be open with their physicians.
“Sharing information about your behavioral health history is just as important as sharing information about your family’s cancer or heart health history. It could save your life.”
If you have a history of depression or feel like you might be experiencing depression symptoms, talk to your physician about whether a depression screening may be right for you. Visit our website to find a list of primary care physicians in your area.