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 at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Houston, 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.”

One possible explanation for the findings is that 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.

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