A new study from Harvard researchers reveals that depression may have one more adverse effect on women: It raises the risk of stroke. Women with a history of depression are 29% more likely to have a stroke than non-depressed women. Strangely enough, taking anti-depressants did not lessen the risk; in fact, women who took SSRIs like Prozac or Zoloft faced a 39% higher risk.
Researchers were quick to say that they had no evidence that the anti-depressants themselves caused the increased likelihood of stroke. They also added that women should not stop taking anti-depressants because of the findings. Instead, use of anti-depressants indicated more severe depression, which in turn has been linked to stroke risk factors (like smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure).
The study indicates that depressed women are more likely to live in an unhealthy lifestyle, even if they are taking anti-depressants. ”Depression can prevent individuals from controlling other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension, from taking medications regularly or pursuing other healthy lifestyle measures such as exercise,” explained Dr. Kathryn Rexrode, one of the researchers.
So the take-away from this data is not that anti-depressants are harmful, but that women who are experiencing depression need to seek help from their doctors to make sure that related conditions like hypertension and diabetes are treated. It’s also useful for doctors to know that there are links between depression and risk of stroke, so that they can speak to depressed patients about unhealthy practices like smoking.
Because men are less likely to experience (or report) depression, researchers said that they were unsure if the findings would translate.
Photo from Persona Majestica Photography via flickr.