17 May 2013

Middle-aged women who have depression are almost twice as likely to have a stroke as women the same age who are not depressed, according to new research from The University of Queensland.

The study, led by Dr Caroline Jackson from UQ’s School of Population Health, found that even after accounting for other stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, middle-aged women who were depressed were 1.9 times more likely to have a stroke than women without depression.

Dr Jackson said the findings highlight the serious impact poor mental health can have on physical health.

“Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression,” she said.

This research is the first large-scale study to examine the association between depression and stroke in women in their 40s and 50s.

It draws upon the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, a 12-year study of more than 10,000 Australian women aged between 47 and 52 years old.

About 24 percent of study participants were reported as being depressed, based on their responses to a standardised depression scale and recent use of medication for depression.

Dr Jackson said it was unclear why depression was so strongly linked to stroke in this age group but the body’s inflammatory and immunological processes and their effects on blood vessels may play a part.

Dr Jackson said although the absolute risk of stroke for this age group was still very low — about two percent — the study did suggest the impact of depression may be stronger on younger women.

“Further research is needed on women of different ages within the same population to help us identify how depression impacts their risk of stroke at different stages in life,” she said.

The findings highlight the need for better and more targeted approaches to preventing and treating depression in middle-aged women.

The study, co-authored by Professor Gita Mishra also of UQ’s School of Population Health, will be published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Media: Vanessa Mannix Coppard, 042 420 7771 or v.manixcoppard@uq.edu.au. Dr Caroline Jackson 07 3346 4649 or caroline.jackson@uq.edu.au.