New research reveals that higher levels of stress, hostility, and depression are linked with a significantly higher risk of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) in middle-aged and older adults. The research team investigated how psychological factors may influence the risk for chronic disease using data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). MESA is an ongoing study on cardiovascular disease risk factors in participants living in six different cities in the United States. More than 6,700 adults ages 45 to 84 years completed questionnaires assessing stress, depressive symptoms, and anger and hostility over 2 years.

The participants were 38.5% white, 27.8% African-American, 11.8% Chinese, and 21.9% Hispanic.

Each of the participants was free of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. According to an American Heart Association news release, in follow-up for an additional 8.5 to 11 years, 147 strokes and 48 TIAs occurred. As compared to the participants with the lowest psychological scores, the persons with the highest scores were as follows: 86% were more likely to have a stroke or TIA with high depressive symptoms; 59% were more likely to have a stroke or TIA for the highest chronic stress scores; and more than twice were as likely to have a stroke or TIA for the highest hostility scores.

The results of the study did show that there was no significant increased risk linked to anger.

Susan Everson-Rose, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study, says, “There’s such a focus on traditional risk factors — cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking and so forth — and those are all very important, but studies like this one show that psychological characteristics are equally important.” Everson-Rose adds, “Given our aging population, it’s important to consider these other factors that might play a role in disease risk. Stroke is a disease of the elderly predominantly, and so learning more about things that can influence risk for stroke as people age is important.”

Source: American Heart Association