By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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HOUSTON — People hospitalized or treated in an emergency room for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health disorders may have an increased risk for stroke, new data suggest.

Researchers, who presented their findings Thursday at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, said psychiatric distress leading to a hospital visit increased the odds of stroke 3.48 times within 15 days; 3.11 within 30 days; 2.41 within 90 days; 2.23 within 180 days; and 2.61 within 360 days.

“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, a 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.”

For the study, researchers used the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project database for California in 2007-2009, in which 3,337 of 52,068 stroke patients were hospitalized or treated in the emergency room for depression, anxiety, PTSD or another psychiatric disorder.

Among possible explanations for the findings, psychological distress may send the body’s fight-or-flight response into overdrive, causing increased blood pressure — the No. 1 risk factor for stroke, Zuflacht said.

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

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

“Healthcare professionals should listen to their patients for symptoms of psychiatric illness, especially in those who may be at increased risk of stroke,” Zuflacht said. “A patient with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and six months of depressive symptoms should raise concerns regarding possible stroke risk.”

According to the American Heart Association, 795,000 Americans have a stroke every year, causing 129,000 deaths.