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Middle-Aged Women Who Suffer from Depression May Be Twice as Likely to Have Stroke

Update Date: May 17, 2013 10:03 AM EDT

A recent study has found that women who suffer from depression are significantly more likely to suffer from a stroke. This research is particularly striking because it honed in on women in middle age, much earlier than when strokes are expected to occur. Because depression is not currently considered to be a risk factor for stroke, it indicates that the condition is a larger risk factor than physicians may have thought.

According to Health Day, the study was conducted by examining data obtained from 10,547 women who participated in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, 24 percent of whom said that they suffered from depression. The study took place over the course of 12 years, and the women were between the ages of 47 and 52 years old when the study began. Every three years between 1998 and 2010, as part of the study, the women needed to answer questions about their physical and mental health.

Over the course of the study period, 177 women had a stroke for the first time. That risk was elevated for women who suffered from depression. Even after adjusting for factors that could elevate the risk of stroke, like age, high levels of alcohol intake, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, being overweight, low levels of physical activity and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that women who suffered from depression were 1.9 times more likely to suffer from stroke.

Researchers could not pinpoint why a link between depression and stroke may exist, pointing at various factors like inflammation in the nervous system, poor health habits that are linked to both depression, like smoking, and stroke and other conditions that are linked to both conditions, like diabetes. According to Everyday Health, one study published in 2012 found that certain commonly prescribed antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are linked to a 50 percent increased risk of bleeding in the brain, a risk factor for stroke. Researchers for that study, which was published in the journal Neurology, note that the risk for such an event was still very low, but that patients who are at risk for strokes and who suffer from clinical depression should be prescribed other antidepressants.

Ultimately, the risk for stroke was still low for all women. Only 1.5 percent of all women included in the Australian study had a stroke, while 2 percent of women with depression did. However, the risk does elevate with age. A comparative study conducted in the United States among older women found that the risk of stroke among women with clinical depression was 30 percent higher than in controls.

This recent study was published in the journal Stroke.

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