Understanding the Connection Between Depression and Stroke
By TeleSpecialists psychiatrist, Dr. Kristina Bedynerman
Strokes are a debilitating disease that can cripple the body and sometimes cause irreparable damage. Aphasia, loss of certain bodily functions, and memory loss are all potentially caused by a stroke. While it is known that strokes cause physical harm, they also can result in mental and emotional damage. According to the American Stroke Association, depression is a common experience for stroke survivors, and it’s often caused by biochemical changes in the brain that prohibits the survivor from feeling positive emotions.
What may not be as well known is that depression can also be a contributing factor to strokes. Establishing the relationship between depression and stroke is crucial in understanding what preventative measures to take against both. It’s essential for anyone who has had a stroke to prioritize mental and physical health on the road to recovery.
Depression Can Increase the Likelihood of a Stroke
It is well known that depression can result from a stroke, and it’s also true for the opposite: depression can lead to strokes. Symptoms of depression that can increase the likelihood of stroke include poor self-care, including changes in appetite and activity level, which can increase the possibility of physical deterioration, subsequently increasing the risk of cerebrovascular events. A lack of a healthy diet and exercise, consuming alcohol, and smoking are primary contributing factors to stroke and are often associated with depression.
The Mental and Physical Challenges of a Stroke Contribute to Depression
Depression is common among people affected by a stroke as they face an uphill climb to adjust to their new normal. While some return to their pre-stroke state after rehabilitating, many never return to that state, which can lead to depression. Studies suggest that up to 1/3 of stroke survivors develop depressive symptoms. Symptoms often become apparent around three to six months after a patient has a stroke, but sometimes patients experience depression immediately after having a stroke. The impact is due to physiological changes in the brain due to a stroke and psychosocial consequences associated with the cerebrovascular event.
In addition, individuals who have experienced a stroke are at a higher risk of experiencing depression compared to individuals who have not. A third of stroke survivors experience depressive symptoms associated with poorer outcomes and increased mortality.
Psychiatric Evaluations Can Help Prevent Depression in Stroke Survivors
Individuals affected by a stroke can benefit from a psychiatric evaluation as a preventative measure against depression. Data suggests that early detection as part of a multi-professional approach improves outcomes in stroke survivors and provides better quality of care. A psychiatric evaluation can provide the necessary early screening for depression. If depression is suspected, psychiatrists can provide early intervention and treatment, which studies suggest leads to improved outcomes in post-stroke recovery.
Helpful Resources for Patients
Up to 80% of strokes are preventable with a combination of healthy lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, and medication, and such practices can help individuals experiencing depression avoid getting a stroke. In addition, the American Stroke Association offers many resources, like an audiocast, fact sheet, and informational video to help post-stroke patients identify and treat depression. It’s recommended that stroke patients experiencing depression be treated by their primary care physician, a neurologist, or a psychiatrist.