Mental Illness Can Put You At Higher Risk of Stroke

The times are changing and many of us have a hard time coping with the demands of daily life. Social norms have also evolved, which has also affected gender roles. Depression is a rising health threat as the majority of the population feel that their efforts are not enough. We may all appear okay on the outside and post the good side of our days to social media but deep down we are hurting. The bad part about this is that many refuse to seek help even though it is obvious they are struggling on their own.

Stress is a major precipitating factor to many of today’s health conditions. From anxiety attacks to epilepsy to cancer, we can all blame stress for putting us at a higher risk than before. And more recently, the experts also discovered the relation between mental illness and a predisposition to having a stroke later in life.

Patients hospitalized or treated in the emergency room for depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other psychiatric disorders may have an increased risk for stroke, particularly in the 15 days following their psychiatric diagnosis.

This is reported by research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2017.

Researchers analyzed the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project database for California and found 52,068 stroke patients between 2007-2009.

Of these patients, 3,337 patients were hospitalized or treated in the emergency room for depression, anxiety, PTSD or another psychiatric disorder.

But why is that so? Why are we more predisposed to getting a stroke if we continually suffer from stress?

Psychological distress may send the body’s fight-or-flight response into overdrive, causing increased blood pressure — the No. 1 risk factor for stroke.

Psychologic distress may also cause changes within cells that trigger inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are thought to increase stroke risk.

Another possible explanation for the study findings, he said, is that when people experience psychological distress, they may forget to take medicines prescribed to reduce their risk of stroke.


What’s even more surprising is that a person suffering from mental illness is at the highest risk of suffering from a stroke within the next couple of weeks after getting hospitalized.

People who sought care at a hospital for serious mental health conditions — such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder — faced a tripled risk of stroke following their visit, the study authors contended.

The risk started to decrease after 30 days, but remained twice as high for at least a year after the ER visit or hospital stay, the researchers said.

“We have known for some time that people who have a stroke seem to be at an increased risk for later on developing some sort of psychiatric illness, depression or post-stroke psychosis,” said study lead author Jonah Zuflacht. He’s a fourth-year medical student at Columbia University‘s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

“But what has been less studied is the inverse of that. Meaning, if you have some sort of psychiatric illness, does it increase the risk for stroke?” he added.

“And what we found is that if you are hospitalized for some sort of mental illness, your risk of stroke is increased, and it’s most increased over the two-week period following your hospitalization,” Zuflacht said.


Health professionals say that even previous patients acknowledge the link between their stress levels and their stroke attack.

“Based on my clinical experience in the hospital, I have noticed that many patients believe that stress for whatever reason — work, family, work-life balance — contributed to their stroke,” said Jonah P. Zuflacht, B.A., lead researcher and a fourth-year medical student at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

“But the data to support a connection between stress and stroke is limited and often relies on a patient’s subjective recall of distress, which can bias results,” stated Zuflacht.

The takeaway is this:

Short-term stroke risk appears higher in patients hospitalized or treated in the emergency room for psychiatric illness.

Risk of stroke was greatest within 15 days of psychiatric diagnosis, declined with time, but persists for at least a year.

Healthcare professionals should listen carefully for signs of psychological distress in patients at risk of stroke.


The bottom line is that stress is a major factor in your mental health and the risk of having a stroke. Life may be tough for most of us but you can always adapt stress-busting practices for your own sanity. If you are clueless on how to relieve yourself of stress, a simple deep breathing exercise works wonder.

Do not let yourself get carried away with your worries. Problems are only temporary. Help is available in case you need one. It may not be in the form of an expensive visit with a shrink, a friend whom you can talk to and provide support when you need one is just as good.