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Does depression raise a woman’s stroke risk?

Women in their 40s and 50s may have nearly double the chance of a stroke if they have depression, a study suggests. But their overall risk of having a stroke is still low.

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

concerned woman

Depression is a common illness that can cause a range of symptoms, including feelings of sadness, a loss of appetite and energy, and a lack of interest in things you used to enjoy. However, the effects of depression may be even wider-ranging, with studies suggesting that it may increase the chance of other health problems, including stroke.

The link between depression and stroke isn’t well understood. But some research has suggested that the connection may be especially strong for women in their 40s and 50s.

To explore this, researchers gathered data on more than 10,500 women aged 47 to 52, who took part in a large Australian health study. The women filled in surveys about their health, lifestyle, and other personal details every three years, for 12 years. The surveys included questions about whether the women had symptoms of depression or were taking antidepressants, and whether they’d had a stroke. The researchers also checked a national death index to find out if any of the women had died of a stroke.

What does the new study say?

Women who had depression were more likely than those without depression to have had a stroke during the study. After accounting for other things that can affect the risk of stroke (such as whether the women smoked or had high blood pressure), the researchers estimated that women with depression were nearly twice as likely to have a stroke.

However, it’s worth noting that the women’s overall risk remained low, as only around 2 in every 100 women with depression had a stroke during the study.

How reliable is the research

This study has several strengths, including being quite large and following up with the women regularly to track any changes in their health or lifestyle. The study’s findings are also in line with those of previous research, which makes it more likely that the link between depression and stroke is genuine.

Even so, we can’t be certain that the women had a higher risk of having a stroke because of their depression. Other factors could have played a role. The researchers accounted for several of these factors, but they weren’t able to account for others, such as whether the women had high cholesterol or a heart problem called atrial fibrillation. Both of these conditions can raise the risk of stroke.

What does this mean for me?

If you are a woman in your 40s or 50s and have depression, these findings suggest you may have a higher risk of having a stroke. It’s possible that treating depression might lower this risk, but studies will need to explore this. However, we do know that there are other things you can do to lower your chance of a stroke, including not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in fat. If you think you may have depression or are worried about your stroke risk, be sure to see your doctor.

Published on May 17, 2013

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