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Study Associates Depression with Increased Stroke Risk

Kate Traynor

Adults who report feeling very depressed may be at greatly increased risk of having a stroke, say scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the scientists, whose study appeared in the July/August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, highly depressed black men and women had the greatest stroke risk—160 percent higher than blacks with few symptoms of depression. Highly depressed white men were 68 percent more likely than other white men to have a stroke. For white women, the risk increased by 52 percent. 

The association between depression and stroke held even after the scientists adjusted the data for age, systolic blood pressure, sex, race, education, smoking status, body mass index, alcohol use, physical activity, and history of heart disease or diabetes. 

The study measured self-reported depression in 6,095 black and white men and women ages 25–74 years at baseline. These adults participated in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted from 1971 through 1975. 

After an average 16-year follow-up period, 483 study participants had had one or more strokes. People who had reported high levels of depressive symptoms were 73 percent more likely than those with few symptoms to have a stroke. A moderate level of depression was associated with a 25 percent increase in stroke risk. 

Symptoms of depression were assessed using the four-question General Well-Being Schedule Cheerful vs. Depressed Scale (GWB-D). The scientists stated that the GWB-D, though it provides self-reported claims of depression instead of clinical diagnosis, has been shown to predict clinical depression. 

Although the study did not identify depression as a cause of stroke, the authors speculated that depression may act indirectly by exacerbating other conditions that lead to stroke. 

According Decision Resources Inc., a company that assesses trends in the pharmaceutical industry, 76.4 million people in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Japan have symptoms of depression.