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Mental illness increases the risk of stroke
Posted in Anxiety, Mental Illness, Stress - 0 Comments

The defining line between mental health and physical health is not always so distinct. Many types of mental illness, such as eating disorders, can cause serious physical harm to the patient. But other risk factors of mental disorders are not so obvious. A study from Columbia University presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference establishes a link between mental illness and higher incidence of stroke.

3.5 times more likely

Jonah P. Zufflacht, a fourth-year medical student, authored the study. The researchers looked at over 52,000 patients in California who received treatment for stroke between 2007 and 2009. The information was pulled from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project database. Out of the 52,000, researchers located over 3,300 who also received treatment for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems.

Looking at the data, the researchers found that individuals who initially sought treatment for a mental health issue were 3.5 times more likely to have a stroke within 15 days of the visit and over three times as likely within 30 days of the visit. The risk of stroke decreased over time, but stroke patients remained at higher risk than the general population.

Fight or flight response

Zufflacht believes mental distress may cause the brain to slip into fight-or-flight mode – an instinctual response to fear or threats. When this happens, the heart pumps faster, leading to high blood pressure. The researchers also believe mental stress may cause inflammation at the cellular level, which can also contribute to the risk of stroke. These reactions, though organic, can be effectively treated holistically and without the need for pharmaceuticals.

Despite study limitations – it was strictly observational and researchers did not know the exact psychiatric diagnoses of the subjects; nor did the study involve outpatients – believes it is important physicians and therapists must be more vigilant with respect to patients with physical behavioral health issues. “A patient with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and six months of depressive symptoms should raise concerns regarding possible stroke risk,” says Zufflacht.

Treatment for mind and body

Studies such as this show that mental health disorders can affect all aspects of a person’s life. Treatment not only helps ease the psychological pressures of a disorder but also helps address the physical manifestations as well, leading to a happier and healthier life.

Sovereign Health of Arizona provides an array of holistic therapies for anxiety and depressive disorders. Mindfulness is one example. This therapy helps the patient remain in the moment. During a mindfulness session, the patient becomes aware of her surroundings; she learns to shut out external distractions and focus on her breathing and her state of mind. Mindfulness can help a patient quiet the mind as well as reduce physical strain that can contribute to a stroke. Contact our 24/7 helpline for more information.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, Fichte and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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