The finding came from a new study based on a nationally representative sample that was presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2013.
The number of people who experienced a stroke and had suicidal thoughts was surprising, compared with individuals who suffer from other health problems, explained lead researcher Amytis Towfighi, M.D., assistant professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and chair of the Department of Neurology at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.
The experts discovered that 7.8% of stroke survivors contemplated suicide compared to:
"Given the high prevalence of suicidal thoughts among stroke survivors, perhaps regular screening for suicidal ideation, in addition to depression, is warranted."
There are approximately 7 million American adults who have suffered a stroke, according to American Stroke Association statistics.
A recent report, which was also presented at the Stroke Conference, indicated that southern cuisine, which consists of fatty fried foods high in salt, is associated with a significantly higher risk of stroke. Another study revealed that marijuana, the most popular illegal drug, may double the chance of stroke among young adults.
Scientists are aware that about one third of those who survive a stroke end up with depression, however, there is barely any information on their thoughts of suicide, Towfighi revealed.
The team of investigators gathered and analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted from 2005 to 2010. NHANES is a continuous series of elaborate, cross-sectional surveys that gives a good picture of the well-being of Americans.
Approximately 6.2 million American adults were stroke survivors during that period. The authors looked at how many of the survivors had thoughts of suicide as well as the characteristics of these patients.
The new report centered on subjects' answers to this question: "Over the past two weeks, how often have you been bothered by thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?"
Results showed that survivors of a stroke had a higher probability of having suicidal thoughts if they:
- were younger
- had a higher depression score
- had higher BMI (body mass index)
- lower poverty index
- lower education level
- were female
- were single
"Post-stroke depression can be associated with poorer functional outcomes, worse quality of life, higher mortality, low psychological well-being, suicidal ideation and suicide."
The percentage of all NHANES subjects, survivors of a stroke or not, who may be suicidal was not determined by this report.
However, Towfighi referred to past research which showed "an annual suicide rate that was nearly double the expected figure for the population as a whole".
The authors were not able to establish wether the association between stroke and suicidal thoughts was due to a cause-and-effect relationship because of the cross-sectional design of the study.
The researchers also pointed out that this report did not look into how recently people suffered a stroke, or whether the strokes were a result of a ruptured blood vessel, known as a hemorrhagic stroke, or a blocked vessel in the brain, referred to as an ischemic stroke. The patients' differing levels of impairment were also not examined.