Depression may be a warning sign of an upcoming stroke, study finds

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Experts say consumers should pay closer attention to their mental health

A new study conducted by researchers from the American Academy of Neurology explored the link between depression and strokes. According to their findings, symptoms related to depression may show up years before consumers experience a cardiac event.

"Depression is among the most pressing problems in people who have had a stroke, and it is so common it is referred to as post-stroke depression,” said researcher Maria Blöchl, Ph.D. “But our study found depressive symptoms not only markedly increase after stroke, it found people had developed some depressive symptoms before the stroke even occurred.” 

Mental and physical health risks

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 11,000 adults over the age of 65 for the study. The participants completed surveys about their mental health every two years for 12 years and reported any depression-related symptoms they were experiencing. The team also followed up with the participants about their physical health outcomes over the same timeframe. 

The researchers learned that there was a link between depression symptoms and a higher risk of stroke. Participants who had experienced more depression-related symptoms were more likely to have a stroke within a few years. 

For the study, the researchers gave each participant a score based on their depression symptoms, with more depression-related symptoms correlating to higher scores. Overall, depression scores increased by an average of 0.33 points two years before participants experienced a stroke. 

Depression scores also remained high and continued to elevate after participants had strokes. The study showed that depression scores shot up more than two points in the years following a stroke and stayed that high for the remainder of the study. 

The team hopes these findings highlight some of the mental health risks that could be indicative of physical health concerns down the road. 

“Depression is not only a post-stroke issue, but also a pre-stroke phenomenon,” Dr. Blöchl said. “Whether these pre-stroke changes can be used to predict who will have a stroke is unclear. Exactly why depressive symptoms occur pre-stroke needs to be investigated in future research. Also, the study underscores why doctors need to monitor for symptoms of depression long-term in people who have had strokes.” 

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