Depression linked to stroke risk in women

A new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers reports a 29% increased risk of stroke among women who are depressed or have a history of depression compared with women who are not depressed.

The study, published August 11, 2011, in the journal Stroke, tracked symptoms and diagnoses of depression, and use of antidepressants among 80,574 women ages 54 to 79 years old in the Nurses’ Health Study followed from 2000-2006. Women who used anti-depressant medications—especially serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSIs)—were found to have a 39% increased stroke risk. SSIs include Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa.

Lead researcher An Pan, research fellow in HSPH’s Department of Nutrition, said the medications may not be a primary cause of stroke risk but instead may indicate severity of depression.”This study does not recommend that people with depression withdraw their current medication treatment,” Pan told the Huffington Post. “However, physicians need to monitor the potential metabolic changes with antidepressant medication.”

Depression has been associated with increased risk of heart disease, but prospective data on stroke are limited. Depression may be linked to stroke through inflammation, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, smoking and physical inactivity, Pan said.

Recognizing that depressed individuals may be at a higher risk of stroke should encourage patients and physicians treating them to control stroke risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol, and patients should be encouraged to make lifestyle changes, such as not smoking and becoming more physically active.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer, striking 425,000 women annually, according to the National Stroke Association.

Read the abstract

View a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) interview

Read the Huffington Post article

Learn more

Read the American Heart Association/National Stroke Association press release