Depressed, middle-aged women twice as likely to have stroke: 9 tips to lower risk


2013-05-18 12:25

If you are a middle-aged woman suffering from depression, your risk of having a stroke is more than twice that of your non-depressed counterparts, according to a new study in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The 12-year study examined 10,547 Australian females between the ages of 47 and 52 years old and found that those with depression had a 2.4 times higher chance of stroke than those who were not depressed.

Even after the researchers adjusted their findings for factors known to increase stroke risks, the results found that the depressed women were still 1.9 times more likely to experience 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. Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression," said study author Caroline Jackson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia.

This is the first large-scale study where researchers observed the link between depression and stroke in younger middle-aged females. In another study from the U.S., the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers found a 30% increased risk of stroke among depressed women, but there was a difference, as the average age of participants in the Nurses’ Health Study was older by 14 years.

In this newest study, researchers gathered and examined data from the nationally representative Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Then, every three years between 1998 and 2010, the researchers asked women participating in the study certain questions regarding their mental and physical health, including other questions about their personal life.

Next, they evaluated the women’s answers according to a standardized depression scale and took into account their recent use of any anti-depressants. As a result, the researchers found that approximately 24% of the women were depressed.

Based on the women’s answers, as well as death records, the results also showed there were 177 first-time strokes that took place during the investigation

Researchers said they used statistical software and repeated measures at every stage of the study while examining the link between depression and stroke. They also controlled the study for variables that can affect the risk of stroke in order to distinguish the independent characteristics of depression, which included the following:

• age
• socioeconomic status
• smoking
• alcohol
• physical activity
• high blood pressure
• heart disease
• being overweight
• having diabetes

Although the elevated risk of stroke linked to depression was large in the research, the absolute risk of having a stroke remained relatively low for women in the study’s age group.

In the U.S., about 2.1% of women in their 40s and 50s suffer a stroke. In this report, however, only about 1.5% of all women suffered a stroke, which increased to just above 2.0% among the women who suffered from depression.

According to Dr. Jackson, comparable findings could be anticipated in a study of American and European women.

"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.

The reason depression is strongly associated with stroke in this age group remains unknown, although Jackson indicates it’s possible that the body's inflammatory and immunological processes, along with their impact on blood vessels, may play a part.

So what can a woman can do prevention-wise?

In a study also published last March in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers showed that green tea and coffee may help lower your risk of having a stroke, especially when both are a regular part of your diet.

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