Navigating Life’s Tribulations May be Key In Avoiding a Stroke
Doctors have known for years that depressive symptoms are a risk factor for stroke. According to a recent Forbes article, “those with more severe depressive symptoms were more than twice as likely to have a first stroke, compared to those with minimal depressive symptoms.” A doubled risk of stroke is too serious to ignore, but the latest news is even more alarming.
Scientists assumed that treating depression would bring the patient’s stroke risk back to normal quickly. What researchers learned instead surprised them: Even two years after depressive symptoms ended, the risk of stroke remained 66% higher than the general population.
Treat Depression Early
Researchers aren’t sure how the connection works, but they have observed that when depression is treated early, stroke risk appears to be reduced. This adds one more incentive for early intervention in depression. It also means that people who are living with long-term depression need to manage their other stroke risk factors.
People often resist treatment for depression, because they view it as a weakness. They think they should be able to ‘snap out of it’ by themselves. But medical science views depression as a physical illness that is both very common and highly treatable. People with depressive symptoms should be getting treatment as early as possible, just like other illnesses.
Know The Warning Signs of Depression
How can you tell depression apart from ordinary sadness or grief? In addition to emotional symptoms like persistent feelings of emptiness, sadness, guilt, or worthlessness, watch for these warning signs:
- Loss of interest or interest or pleasure in activities
- Fatigue; low energy
- Difficulty concentrating; indecisiveness; memory loss
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia, oversleeping, wakefulness in early morning)
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Aches or pains like headache or digestive issues that don’t go away with treatment
There are certain factors that can reduce your risk of having depressive episodes, even if you’ve been depressed in the past. The Mayo Clinic suggests that you take steps to control stress, build a support network of family and friends you can reach out to when you need help, seek treatment at the first signs of a problem, and consider long-term maintenance treatment to help prevent relapses.
This advice also holds true for people who’ve never suffered from depression and want to avoid it. Navigating the tribulations of daily life without falling into depression takes a combination of internal and external factors.
- Practice thinking positively by keeping a gratitude journal, and by consciously replacing negativity and complaints with positive messages to yourself and others.
- Build connections by joining a church, club, or group
- Nurture your friendships, and make time to connect with neighbors, family members, and acquaintances
- Consider getting a pet
- Don’t accept stress as inevitable
- Get job training so you’ll have the freedom to walk away from situations that make you miserable
- Get regular exercise and eat well
Decrease Other Risk Factors For Stroke
If you’ve dealt with long-term or severe depression, you’ll want to take charge of your stroke risk as much as possible. The American Stroke Association offers an extensive list of manageable risk factors, including the following:
- Work with your doctor to manage high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell disease, and heart disease
- Quit smoking
- Watch your cholesterol
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity per day
Scientists are still exploring the connection between depression and stroke risk. But if you are at risk for either, you can take steps now to manage your risk. Know the symptoms of depression and seek treatment as soon as they appear. Take steps to control stress and build a support network to minimize your risk of depression, and enjoy a healthy lifestyle to reduce your overall stroke risk.