Middle-aged women who suffer from depression face almost double the risk of having a stroke, according to a 12-year Australian study.
The research, published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, involved 10,547 women ages 47 to 52. Depressed women were found to be 1.9 times more likely to have a stroke after factors such as age, lifestyle and socio-demographics were taken into account.
“When treating women, doctors need to recognize the serious nature of poor mental health and what effects it can have in the long term,” said study author Caroline Jackson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia. “Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression.”
This is the first large-scale study that investigated the association between depression and stroke in younger middle-aged women.
The closest prior comparison was the U.S.-based Nurses’ Health Study — which showed a 30 percent higher risk of stroke among depressed women. However, the average participant’s age in that study was 14 years older.
For the new study, researchers analyzed survey results from the nationally representative Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Participants reported on their mental and physical health and other personal details every three years during 1998-2010.
About 24 percent of participants were depressed, based on their responses to a standardized depression scale (Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, short version) and their use of antidepressants in the past month.
Self-reported responses and death records revealed 177 first-time strokes occurred during the study.
The researchers then used statistical software and repeated measures at each survey point to analyze the relationship between depression and stroke.
To distinguish the effects of depression alone, they factored out several characteristics that can affect stroke risk, including: age; socioeconomic status; lifestyle habits such as smoking, alcohol and physical activity; and physiological conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, being overweight and diabetes.
Jackson noted that although the increased stroke risk associated with depression was large, the absolute risk of stroke is still fairly low for this age group.
Only about 2 percent of American women in their 40s and 50s suffer from stroke. In the study, only about 1.5 percent of all women had a stroke.
Similar results could be expected among American and European women, Jackson said.
“We may need more targeted approaches to prevent and treat depression among younger women, because it could have a much stronger impact on stroke for them now rather than later in life,” she said.
It’s still undetermined why depression is strongly linked to stroke in this age group. Inflammatory and immunological processes and their effects on our blood vessels may be part of the reasons, she said.