Long-term depression may double the risk of stroke for middle-aged adults, according to a new research. Scientists found that persistent depression may double the risk of stroke in adults over 50 – and stroke risk remains higher even after symptoms of depression go away.

“Our findings suggest that depression may increase stroke risk over the long term,” said Paola Gilsanz, study lead author from Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Researchers used data from 16,178 participants (ages 50 and older) who had been interviewed as part of the Health and Retirement Study about depressive symptoms, history of stroke, and stroke risk factors every two years in 1998-2010. The study documented 1,192 strokes over 12 years. Compared to people without depression at either interview, people with high depressive symptoms at two consecutive interviews were more than twice as likely to have a first stroke and people who had depressive symptoms at the first interview but not the second had a 66 per cent higher stroke risk.

Researchers did not evaluate whether depressive symptoms diminished because of treatment or for other reasons; but findings suggest that treatment, even if effective for depression, may not have immediate benefits for stroke risk. Researchers also suggest that diminished depression may have a stronger effect on women than men. However, recent onset of depression was not associated with higher stroke risk.

“Looking at how changes in depressive symptoms over time may be associated with strokes allowed us to see if the risk of stroke increases after elevated depressive symptoms start or if risk goes away when depressive symptoms do,” Gilsanz said. “We were surprised that changes in depressive symptoms seem to take more than two years to protect against or elevate stroke risk,” Gilsanz said.

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