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Depression, Anxiety and Hostility Raise Risk of Stroke, Says Study


Many people know that traumatic or highly stressful events can cause a person’s heart to stop; but a new study has found that depression, anxiety and hostility are also associated with a higher risk for stroke.

Researchers found that depression was linked to an 86 percent greater risk of stroke or a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. TIA, also known as a mini-stroke, happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is temporarily blocked. The person will experience stroke-like symptoms for anywhere from minutes to hours; usually, symptoms last less than 24 hours, and in most cases, there is no permanent damage.

Stress was linked to a 59 percent higher risk of stroke or TIA; hostility seemed to double the risk of stroke or TIA. Curiously, anger was not associated with a higher stroke risk.

Researchers have known for decades that negative emotions or ongoing stress can have a great impact on a person’s overall health; this study assessed the risk of stroke in particular. It is important for patients and health care providers to understand that chronic stress and negative emotional states could increase risk of stroke, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Susan Everson-Rose, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

The research team studied data for almost 7,000 adults, ages 45 to 84, who were participating in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, which included people living in six different areas of the United States. Subjects filled out questionnaires asking about ongoing stress, depression, anger and hostility. None of the participants had a history of heart disease or stroke when the study started.

Study subjects were followed for an average of 8.5 years, at which time, slightly less than 3 percent had had a stroke or mini-stroke: 147 had a stroke and 48 had a mini-stroke.

Participants who reported having the highest levels of stress, hostility or depression were found to have the biggest risk of stroke or mini-stroke, compared to those who’d reported lower levels of these emotions. The link between the negative emotions and stroke or mini-stroke held, even when the scientists took into account age, sex, lifestyle habits and other known risk factors for stroke.

People wanting to reduce their risk of stroke can pay attention to known risk factors; but they should also consider how stress and emotions may be affecting their health, said Dr. Everson-Rose.

The study findings were published online recently in the journal Stroke.

While long-term (chronic) stress has long been thought by health professionals to be a risk factor for stroke, previous studies have shown that acute stress can also trigger strokes — that is, strokes sometimes occur right after a stressful event.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, known major risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart diseases
  • Brain aneurysms or arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
  • Age and gender
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Personal or family history of stroke or TIA

Other risk factors include:

  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Recreational drugs, including cocaine, amphetamine and marijuana
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Obesity
  • Popular anti-depressants, including Prozac and Zoloft

The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chances that they will suffer a stroke. Strokes can also happen to people who have no known risk factors.

By Jamell Andrews

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