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Depression May Raise Risk for Early Death in Stroke Survivors

< Jan. 16, 2013 > -- It's normal to feel a little blue from time to time. But when feelings of sadness take over, it may be depression, a serious mental health condition that can affect all aspects of a person's life . For people who have suffered a stroke, depression may be especially harmful. A new study suggests stroke survivors who develop depression may die sooner.

Photo of man looking sad

Depression and stroke link

Researchers followed more than 10,000 Americans ages 25 to 74 for two decades, beginning in the early 1970s. During that time, study participants were screened for depression. Any incidents of stroke were also recorded. Researchers found that people who had suffered a stroke and then developed depression were three times more likely to die compared with study participants who did not have a stroke or depression.

What's the connection? Researchers aren't entirely certain why depression may raise the risk for death in stroke sufferers. The severity of the stroke may play a role. People who have severe strokes may be at higher risk for depression because of resulting disabilities that limit self-care. For instance, such people may be unable to exercise, take their medications properly, or perform routine daily activities such as getting dressed.

The link may also have a biological basis. A stroke causes brain damage. That damage, in turn, may cause stroke sufferers to be more prone to depression.

Warning signs of depression

Nearly one-third of people who have a stroke may develop depression. That makes awareness about the condition for stroke survivors especially important. Lead researcher Amytis Towfighi, M.D., recommends that stroke survivors and their families talk with their doctor about the risk for depression.

Also watch for the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness

  • Little interest in favorite activities

  • Fatigue

  • Lack of concentration

  • Too little or too much sleep

  • No appetite, or eating too much

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

The study results will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in March.

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Lowering Your Risk for Stroke

Stroke can strike at anytime, becoming more common as people grow older. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk for stroke - at any age - with the following strategies:

  • If you smoke, talk with your doctor about nicotine replacement and other stop-smoking aids. Smoking almost doubles your stroke risk. But your risk will start decreasing as soon as you give up cigarettes.

  • Limit your salt intake to help control your blood pressure. Processed foods, such as snack foods and frozen entrees, are the source of most salt in the American diet.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Heavy drinking, as well as binge drinking, increases stroke risk.

  • Look for ways to eat more fruits and vegetables. For instance, serve fruit for dessert.

  • Choose whole-grain cereals and breads. In one study, people who ate more whole-grain foods had a lower risk for stroke.

  • Get moving ... for at least 30 minutes every day. Go for a brisk walk or a bike ride.

  • Ask your doctor whether you should take aspirin. A daily aspirin may help prevent stroke in certain people.

  • Practice good dental habits to prevent gum disease. People with gum disease have a higher stroke risk.

  • Seek treatment for depression. Depressed adults are more likely to suffer strokes.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Academy of Family Physicians - Depression

National Institute of Mental Health - Depression

National Institute of Mental Health - Depression and Stroke