A total of 10,547 women aged between 47 and 52 years old were involved in the 12-year study. These women were surveyed and answered questions about their mental, physical health and other personal details every 3 years from 1998 to 2010.
It was found that depressed women had a 2.4 times increased risk of stroke compared to those who were not depressed. Even after eliminating several factors that could raise stroke risks, depressed women were still found to be 1.9 times more likely to have a stroke. Those eliminated factors include age; socioeconomic status; lifestyle habits like smoking, alcohol and physical activity; and physiological conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, being overweight and diabetes.
This is the first large-scale study that examined the relationship between depression and stroke in younger middle-aged women. About 24 percent of participants reported being depressed and 177 first-time strokes occurred during the study.
Researchers stressed that despite the increased stroke risk linked to depression was large in the study, the absolute stroke risk was still quite low for the age group studied. Only about 1.5 percent of all women had a stroke, as compared to about 2.1 percent of American women in the 40s and 50s. Among depressed women, the risk was raised to slightly more than 2 percent. Researchers also pointed out that similar results could also be expected among American and European women.
While it is not clear why depression might be strongly associated with stroke in this age group, it is possible that body’s inflammatory and immunological processes and their effects on the blood vessels might be part of the reasons.
Current guidelines for stroke prevention might overlook the potential role of depression. Hence, doctors should recognize the serious nature of poor mental health and its long-term effect when treating women. In the meantime, more targeted approaches are required to prevent and treat depression among younger women.
There is no doubt that depression, heart disease and stroke are all related. It is probably because stroke and heart disease share some risk factors, like high blood pressure and being overweight. For instance, a recent study had found that older people with heart disease and had more severe and frequent depression symptoms were more likely to have a stroke.