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Women with depression may be at higher stroke risk
August 11th, 2011
05:12 PM ET

Women with depression may be at higher stroke risk

Women with depression have a higher risk for stroke, according to a new study, adding to the growing amount of information linking depression and stroke. The study also found that women who used certain antidepressants were at higher risk for stroke. The research, by Harvard Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers, is published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers used data from more than 80,000 women enrolled in the Nurses Health Study which began in 1976 and followed registered nurses in 11 states to document their medical histories and health practices. This analysis included women aged 54 to 79, following them from 2000 to 2006. When the study began, none of the women had a history of stroke. Symptoms of depression were measured several times during the study period and researchers noted the use of antidepressant medications.

The researchers found that women with a history of depression had an associated 29% increased risk of stroke. Women who used antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, had an associated 39% increased risk of stroke. Examples of SSRIs include Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft. It’s important to note that the authors clearly state that their findings do not show a causal relationship, and their findings may be a result of other factors that were not measured or explained.

How does this all fit together? Is it the depression or the antidepressants that increases the stroke risk? “I don’t think the medications themselves are the primary cause of the risk," says  senior author Dr. Kathryn Rexrode. "This study does not suggest that people should stop their medications to reduce the risk of stroke.”

Rexrode, who is an associate professor at both Brigham and Women's and Harvard Medical School, notes that symptoms of depression can impair people from properly maintaining  health conditions, taking medications or engaging in healthy lifestyle measures including eating properly and exercising. In fact, the study reveals that depressed women were more likely to be less active, have higher weights, and to have medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, which all contribute to increased stroke risk.  The study notes that previous research has shown that antidepressant use is associated with higher rates of inflammation, high blood pressure, and weight gain. Those also are factors that increase stroke risk.

The study does have limitations: The sample was composed primarily of white registered nurses, which may limit the ability to apply the findings to other populations.

The study's lead author, An Pan of the Harvard School of Public health, says there are actions that can be taken to prevent strokes.  "These risk factors - depression, diabetes, healthy weight and diet, healthy cholesterol, high blood pressure - are all interrelated," Pan says. "You can't just treat one risk factor to prevent strokes.  Patients and doctors need to understand the interplay of risk factors for stroke and depression and treat them together."    Pan revealed that further studies are being planned to examine how depression and stroke are associated.


soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Celine

    Depression and stroke in women ? Must have something to do with putting up with a no-good, lazy @ss husband!

    August 11, 2011 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jesus

      ...or maybe it is genetic.

      August 11, 2011 at 23:54 | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Bitter? Party of One?
      Seriously... depression hits men too (though a smaller percentage),
      and stroke is a top 3 cause of death for both genders.

      August 11, 2011 at 23:55 | Report abuse |
    • weq

      Shut up and make me a sandwich...

      August 12, 2011 at 00:17 | Report abuse |
    • Jill

      Then divorce the bum and make yourself happy. Nobody likes a martyr

      August 12, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse |
    • mebakeoven

      Obviously, your husband or boyfriend did the smart thing and dumped you.

      August 12, 2011 at 06:07 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Or maybe the unnecessary drama that YOU PEOPLE create is the source.

      August 12, 2011 at 08:16 | Report abuse |
    • Harper

      AMEN!!!

      August 12, 2011 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
    • Kelly

      If a person isn't happy in a relationship, they're the idiot for staying in it, man or woman.

      Did the people of this study know that certain foods and medications do not mix? Antidepressants and cheese or sausage for one, can cause a reaction that raises blood pressure and potentially cause a stroke.

      Doctors really should know more about reactions like this and warn people who take medications, because there's potentially deadly reactions from mixing a myriad of medications with different types of food; anticoagulants and leafy green vegetables for another – is often mentioned, however reactions with antidepressants and foods are not.

      It could be these women just really like snacking on cheese and take medication that doesn't mix well with it.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The only antidepressants that interact with cheese and other foods are MAOIs. Stop giving out bad information.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse |
  2. Len671

    had a relative who after suffering years of depression died last year from diabetes complications and before she died they determined that she had several mini-strokes (several trips to E.R. did not catch it) that took its toll on her body. strokes and heart attacks in women are often misdiagnosed.

    August 11, 2011 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. just fine thanks

    Great. That's discouraging. I'd love to have read something a little more conclusive than "there are actions that can be taken to prevent strokes". Kinda tough to drop a bomb like that on a person who has a lifelong history of fighting depression and doesn't need yet another reason to feel helpless. Yes, I know that there are things to do to prevent strokes. Let's see: be more active. Oh yea, depression reduces physical activity. Be a normal weight. Oh, right. depression AND SSRIs cause weight gain. *sigh*

    August 11, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. daliz

    a lot of people who are severely depressed, also smoke heavily- think that might increase stroke risk?

    August 11, 2011 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. kathy

    Great, another thing to be depressed about.

    August 11, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jesus

      To all women who still have it together physically...begin a torrid affair. That will cure depression!

      August 11, 2011 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
  6. Jill

    My mother in law is old, depressed and takes Prozac, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

    August 12, 2011 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. G-Stanky

    "WOO-HOO! I'm gonna die of CANCER SOON!!! Yaaaay I HATE my life" ...Finally, Depressed people can stop being a bunch of babies and die already! :D

    August 12, 2011 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. It's about time

    I can personally attest to the fact that Celexa is involved in this. It was prescribed for me when I was mildly depressed. Tak- ing Celexa caused me to fall (backwards – always backwards) in my home. While on the floor I had tremors and hit my head against my dresser in the bedroom several times until I was able to maneuver away from it. Is this related to sroke symptoms? I can't say. But what I can say is that prescription drugs as well as some sold over the counter need to be tested a lot more fully than they are at present. People should not have to suffer these side effects when taking drugs they need to alleviate pain & discomfort. Someone needs to monitor the medical community a lot more closely than it's being monitored now.

    August 12, 2011 at 07:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sybilquestion

      So why are you taking drugs then? Why don't you get proactive workout and stop looking for others or solutions to "your depression?"
      The medical community is an enabler for people to indulge in the "oh I am depressed" mode of thinking. I don't blame a doctor for prescribing either because they are probably tired of their patients coming in with the same problem and not taking charge so hey dispense with the meds.
      This study should have looked at and probably still can with the data that they have, were these subjects of the experiment obese when younger and then they "became depressed" or were they depressed and then indulged in emotional eating resulting in "obesity?" Because it is the obesity that will ultimately cause strokes and ultimately heart attacks.
      So "It's about time" I think it's about time you took control of your feelings and actions and stop looking for happiness to tap you on the shoulder and say, "Hey it's happiness time."
      GO WORKOUT!!! Working out absolutely affects your BRAIN!!!!

      August 12, 2011 at 08:48 | Report abuse |
    • poster

      I had a similar experience. There's no doubt in my mind it's the drugs. People get defensive of their illness and say" you don't understand if you've never experienced depression. It's a chemical imbalance". I didn't experience depression until I tried to get off the drugs. I know what this "chemical imbalance" feels like and more times than not it's caused by the drugs themselves. I'm not minimizing it. It was hell on earth combined with the physical symptoms of the drug. Once the withdrawal, or "discontinuation syndrome" has passed, you'll realize you have no chemical imbalance. It was the drug causing the imbalance. Most of these drugs are given for situational depression but turn the victims into long term chronic patients. I was given the drugs for off label use. Never had depression in my life, but because of the drugs I have experienced it now. Don't tell me I don't know what it feels like, but also don't tell me it's not the drugs.

      August 12, 2011 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Where did you get your degree in psychiatry, sybil? Because until you have an MD after your name, you aren't qualified to render a medical opinion on anything.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
  9. someoneelse

    I'm pretty sure there is a link between stroke and depression for cats, let alone women. I really wish we would start spending money on useful things again.

    August 12, 2011 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Flea

    Until you have suffered from true clinical depression, and not just the blues, or I hada bad day syndrome, you have no idea what it is like. There is such a misconception of it being that the person is weak, or being a baby, when it is a true chemical imbalance. Exercise does help, but when you cannot even get out of bed, that becomes quite difficult. I feel for people battling depression ( I have seen my own mother struggle with it for years). I wish our country would take more of an interest on the way other countries treat depression through more natural means. Some of the stuff they use in Europe has been used forever, and it seems to work, yet, we do not investigate it here, so it can be regulated. Best wishes to everyone out there battling depression.

    August 12, 2011 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Black Dog

      Flea, I think the reason there are so many ignorant remarks about depression is because of it's name: Depression. When people hear the word depression, they think sadness. It's an emotion, a feeling. When you HAVE Depression, you are void of feeling. People with what we call "Depression" are not all fat, Sybil. We come in all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, blue collar, white collar...we're just like all you "normies," except the little wire that makes us FEEL the emotions we know we SHOULD feel is cut, which makes us different from everyone else, totally isolated, confused, not knowing why you can't feel happy when you know you should. Work out? I do, and I'm at my ideal weight. And yes, I do take antidepressants while maintaining my weight. So what's your theory now, Sherlock?

      Bah! Enough with the trolls. Anyway, Flea, I agree with everything you say, and let's hope the powers that be, whoever they are, will do us a great service and fix the stigma that comes with the MISNOMER - Depression. Call it something else so that we don't see the breadth of ignorance as demonstrated by Sybil.

      August 12, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Black Dog, I like your moniker-Winston Churchill was right. Anyway, I agree with you, except for one thing: you can call depression by another name, but idiots like sybil will be idiots no matter what.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
  11. aminmd

    @sybilquestion: Your callousness and lack of compassion are stunning. Clinical depression is an ILLNESS. Like a monkey on the back, it is always there. Just as cancer and other diseases can be treated with medication and holistic efforts, depression can also be treated this way. But to blame a person for a lack of activity when they can barely get out of bed in the morning is just plain ignorant and heartless. You should get on your knees an pray that you don't get a chronic disease that takes on a life of it's own and find the need to drag yourself awake every day. You are precisely the reason why there is no politeness left in our society. We have lost our sense of compassion and gentility, and we wonder why we get so little respect from the rest of the world...

    August 12, 2011 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • catmandoo

      Agree 100%
      Thank you.

      August 12, 2011 at 09:36 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      sybil is a know-nothing. Ignore her.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:41 | Report abuse |
  12. DD

    Do what makes you happy & nuts to those who would try to drag you down. Your life is what you make of it. If you have family health history, pay attention, but don't obsess. I just lost another friend too soon yesterday. I believe in LIVING not EXISTING.

    August 12, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. FauxNews

    The survey only including women taking antidepressants, so it's funny, they linked stokes to depression and not the drug used to treat it.

    August 12, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That isn't what the article says. It says all the women suffered depression, not that they were all taking antidepressants.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
  14. Steph

    Actual clinical depression does need to be called by another name than depression.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Stroke Profile

    The important thing to do is to TELL YOUR DOCTOR to consider administering a Stroke Profile test for a patient especially if she or he is elderly. Failure to do this simple test that might even be covered by insurance can mean the difference between life and death! There have been many people who suffer from "mini strokes" who are never diagnosed properly and who go on to have a massive stroke later on when this simple Stroke profile test could uncover whether or not they are at risk. It checks the Carotid Artery among other things. Everyone at risk should seriously consider asking their doctor for this test! You could be Saving your own life!

    August 12, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Joe

    Clinical depression, anxiety and other illnesses are the result of chemical imbalances (and also brain injuries.) While changes in thinking can certainly help, the underlying problem is always there. Count yourself as very luck if you've never had it but don't think you never will. I didn't have anxiety issues until my late 20's. I've been fighting it ever since.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      My sympathies, Joe. I hope you are getting help. Depression and anxiety can have a genetic component, too. If your parents, grandparents, and/or siblings have suffered from anxiety or depression, there is a possibility that you may as well. Ignore people like sybil, who think they know what they're braying about and see someone who really is qualified to diagnose and treat you. Exercise is good for you and it can help, but it's by no means a cure-all. Medication can be tremendously effective.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
  17. Big Pharma Strikes Again

    I totally agree with poster, who wrote:
    I had a similar experience. There's no doubt in my mind it's the drugs. People get defensive of their illness and say" you don't understand if you've never experienced depression. It's a chemical imbalance". I didn't experience depression until I tried to get off the drugs. I know what this "chemical imbalance" feels like and more times than not it's caused by the drugs themselves. I'm not minimizing it. It was hell on earth combined with the physical symptoms of the drug. Once the withdrawal, or "discontinuation syndrome" has passed, you'll realize you have no chemical imbalance. It was the drug causing the imbalance. Most of these drugs are given for situational depression but turn the victims into long term chronic patients. I was given the drugs for off label use. Never had depression in my life, but because of the drugs I have experienced it now. Don't tell me I don't know what it feels like, but also don't tell me it's not the drugs.
    Off-label experiments with SSRIs, SSNRIs and even tricyclics are dangerous. Big Pharma pays for the academic studies, so it should not be surprising that the question was not asked: Is it the drugs which are causing the increased stroke risk?

    August 12, 2011 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, for Pete's sake. They don't know whether or not the antidepressants were the cause of the strokes or not. That is still to be determined.

      Some of you conspiracy nuts are crazier than any depressed person will ever be.

      August 12, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
  18. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    The researchers found that women with a history of depression had an associated 29% increased risk of stroke. Women who used antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, had an associated 39% increased risk of stroke. Examples of SSRIs include Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft. It’s important to note that the authors clearly state that their findings do not show a causal relationship, and their findings may be a result of other factors that were not measured or explained.
    ---------------------------------------------------

    August 12, 2011 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Big Pharma Strikes Again

      Are you an M.D., Ph.D., academic research fellow or did you just read the article? The article does not discuss the chemical components of SSRIs, SSNRIs, tricyclics or other forms of anti-depressants which are frequently given for off-label uses. Cymbalta (an SSNRI) for example, was being unsuccessfully mass-marketed for depression because it had a suicide warning. Now it is being marketed to the population of chronic pain sufferers, with pastoral scenes, smiling faces and happy music covering the suicide warning. I am not a conspiracy nut, but you sound like a drug pusher to me. (See your response to Joe, above.)

      August 14, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
    • Big Pharma Strikes Again

      I do not know if you read the actual published report or not. Perhaps you are just responding to the CNN summary. Here is the text of the published article. http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2011/08/11/STROKEAHA.111.617043.full.pdf+html
      Any researcher knows that a correlation of 4% or higher is statistically significant in multivariate analysis. There was a 10% increase in strokes for the women in the study who took antidepressants over those who were found to have depression according to the testing method employed in the study. There was a 39% increase in strokes for those women taking anti-depressants over the control population.

      August 14, 2011 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You are a conspiracy nut. Like all of them, you assume that anyone who doesn't buy into your silliness MUST work for "Big Pharma". I have news for you, honey. I couldn't be much further removed from the field than I am.

      I just don't see the black helicopters like you do.

      August 14, 2011 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
    • Big Pharma Strikes Again

      What on earth does this mean, TTPS: "I have news for you, honey. I couldn't be much further removed from the field than I am." I have no doubt, that you are very removed from the field of academic research. (Also, I am not your "honey.")
      I did not suggest that you work for Big Pharma. I The public should not trust that a medication has been objectively and thoroughly tested. I am merely recommending that the public consider the human flaws in research protocols.
      Your bizarre name calling (calling me "honey," "conspiracy nut" x 2 and "seeing black helicopters") suggests that you might be suffering from serotonin syndrome. I suggest that you examine your SSRI use.

      August 15, 2011 at 07:36 | Report abuse |
    • Big Pharma Strikes Again

      What on earth does this mean, TTPS: "I have news for you, honey. I couldn't be much further removed from the field than I am." I have no doubt, that you are very removed from the field of academic research. (Also, I am not your "honey.")
      I did not suggest that you work for Big Pharma. I am merely suggesting that the public should not trust that a medication has been objectively and thoroughly tested and that there are always human flaws in research protocols.
      Your bizarre name calling (calling me "honey," "conspiracy nut" x 2 and "seeing black helicopters") suggests that you might be suffering from serotonin syndrome hallucinations. I suggest that you cut down on your SSRI use.

      August 15, 2011 at 07:39 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And I suggest you stick it up your azz. I'll call you whatever I see fit. If you don't like it, then don't read my posts. You can claim any level of expertise you wish when you're on an anonymous site.

      August 15, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
  19. Big Pharma Strikes Again

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/12/1/research-private-university-funding/
    The issue of academic bias is significant in every research study.
    I have been engaged in academic research for over 30 years. It is a part of the scientific method for the researcher to examine the bias in the research itself.

    August 14, 2011 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Big Pharma Strikes Again

    Anyone who suspects that they have suffered a stroke from the use of SSRIs should contact an attorney with a background in pharmacology and, at best, experience in litigation against SSRI manufacturers. I would leave my contact information, but, as TTPS says, albeit with a great deal of hostility (a symptom of SSRI intoxication or discontinuation syndrome) this is an anonymous site. I personally do not believe that this site should be used for commercial purposes, although I would like to help anyone who has been injured by the use of SSRIs. I can only suggest that you may want to contact a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. There are statutes of limitation in every state for products liability and/or medical malpractice cases. Litigation is very painful and is only recommended in the cases of serious injury or death. It is highly recommended that you contact the FDA so that your experience can be used to improve the warnings on SSRI medications so that you can help others. The FDA is presently very responsive under the current administration. That may change with budget cuts.

    August 18, 2011 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 26, 2011 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Rob

    Does alprazolam (xanax) help fighting women's depression? http://www.alprazolam.altervista.org

    August 31, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply

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