High risk of stroke is linked to mental health

Researchers find people with mental health problems and depression are at the greatest risk of stroke

  • People with severe depressive symptoms have ‘given up on life improvements’ 
  • Researchers believe screening for mood disorder genes could avoid strokes 

Depression and other mental health problems may put sufferers at increased risk of a stroke, two studies have found.

In the first, people who reported the worst depressive symptoms – admitting they’d ‘given up on life improvements’ – were found to have the greatest risk of a stroke.

The research, published in the journal Neurology, found that in the year prior to suffering a stroke, survivors had been 46 per cent more likely to have had low mood when compared to a control group of people who had not had a stroke. The study also suggested that depressed people found it harder to recover after a stroke.

A second study examined the records of people with genes known to be linked to depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, and found those with the highest genetic risk were more likely to suffer a stroke.

The Lund University scientists behind the analysis said their data showed these mental health problems caused strokes, not the other way round. They suggested if people were screened for mood disorder genes, they could then be advised on how to better manage other factors that are known to increase stroke risk.

People suffering from depression and mental illness are at greater risk of stroke 

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems affecting one in six UK adults

In the UK, roughly 100,000 people have strokes each year – one every five minutes – and there are 1.3 million stroke survivors.

The problem occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, killing brain cells. The damage can lead to long-term disability and affect how people think and feel. The most common cause is a blockage by a blood clot in arteries supplying the brain. This happens due to cardiovascular disease, when blood vessels become narrowed or blocked over time by fatty deposits known as plaques – a process known as atherosclerosis.

While this may happen due to age, other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems, affecting one in six UK adults.

It is also known that people with mood disorders are more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease, but that link isn’t fully understood.

However, Santa Monica-based neurologist Dr Sandra Narayanan suggested: ‘Depressive symptoms can be associated with increased stress, which can independently increase inflammation, [the] risk of cardiovascular disease and morbidity.’

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