Depression doubles the risk of having a stroke in middle-aged women, according to a new study in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The research, a 12-year examination of 10,547 Australian females between the ages of 47 and 52 years old, showed that depressed women had a 2.4 times higher likelihood of stroke than those who were not suffering from depression.

After adjusting for factors known to increase stroke risks, results showed that depressed women were still 1.9 times more likely to experience a stroke.

Study author Caroline Jackson, Ph.D., epidemiologist in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia, said:

“When treating women, doctors need to recognize the serious nature of poor mental health and what effects it can have in the long term. Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression.”

This is the first large-scale study in which scientists observed the link between depression and stroke in younger middle-aged females.

A different study, the U.S.-based Nurses’ Health Study, is the closest comparison to the novel report, according to the authors. The Nurses’ study demonstrated a 30% increased risk of stroke among depressed women. However, the mean age of the participants was 14 years older.

For the current research, data were gathered and examined from the nationally representative Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.

Every three years between 1998 and 2010, the subjects were asked about their mental and physical health and other personal information.

After analyzing the participants’ responses to a standardized depression scale and looking at their recent use of anti-depressants, the experts found that approximately 24% of the women were depressed.

Self-reported responses as well as death records showed that 177 first-time strokes took place during the investigation.

In order to examine the association between suffering from depression and having a stroke, the scientists used statistical software and repeated measures at every survey point.

The researchers controlled for variables that can affect stroke risks in order to distinguish the independent effects of depression.

These characteristics included:

Even though the elevated risk of stroke linked to depression was large in the research, the absolute risk of having a stroke is still relatively low for women of this age.

Approximately 2.1% of females in their 40s and 50s in the U.S. experience a stroke. In the report, only about 1.5% of all subjects suffered a stroke. That number increased a little over 2 percent among women with depression.

Comparable findings could be anticipated in a study of American and European women, according to Jackson.

Jackson said:

“We may need more targeted approaches to prevent and treat depression among younger women, because it could have a much stronger impact on stroke for them now rather than later in life.”

Although it is not known why depression is strongly associated with stroke in this age group, Jackson suggests that the body’s inflammatory and immunological processes and their impact on our blood vessels may play a part.

Written by Sarah Glynn