Depression severity may predict stroke risk, study finds

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Depression is more than just feeling down or having a bad day.

When a sad mood lasts for a long time and interferes with normal, everyday functioning, you may be depressed.

A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when something blocks the blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of serious disability for adults.

In a study from Kaiser Permanente and elsewhere, scientists found people who consistently have higher depressive symptoms may be at higher risk for a stroke.

But stroke risk did not increase in those with decreasing severity of symptoms over time, even if they had high depressive symptoms early on.

Past studies show a possible link between depression and the risk of stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures.

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and death worldwide, and it’s the No. 5 cause of death in the United States.

In the new study, researchers tried to paint a broader picture by measuring symptoms repeatedly over an eight-year period.

They used an eight-item scale that included questions about whether participants felt sad, lonely, or had restless sleep, among others.

They studied existing data for 12,520 U.S. adults age 50 and older without a history of stroke in the Health and Retirement Study.

The team assessed depressive symptoms that were available biennially from 1998 to 2004, for a total of four assessments.

Across 10 years of follow-up, people with a pattern of consistently high depressive symptoms—defined as three or more—had an 18% higher risk of stroke compared to those who consistently had low symptoms, defined as fewer than three.

Fluctuating symptoms elevated stroke risk by 21%, and increasing symptoms heightened risk by 31%.

The team found individuals whose symptoms started out high but then decreased had about the same stroke risk as those with consistently low symptoms.

The findings suggest that improving depressive symptoms might be something we care about in relation to stroke prevention. It might be important for physicians to assess symptoms repeatedly across multiple visits.

The study may help bring attention to mental health and depression in the broader public.

Further research is warranted on whether treatment for depression may improve stroke risk differently from natural remission, which researchers couldn’t disentangle in the study.

If you care about depression, please read studies about vegetarianism linked to a higher risk of depression, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.

For more information about stroke, please see recent studies that more intensive blood pressure treatment may prevent strokes and results showing how a wife recognized the signs of stroke and helped save her husband.

The study was conducted by Yenee Soh et al and published in Stroke.

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