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Stroke survivors found to have highest rate of suicidal thoughts

by Kimberly Shine
Feb 07, 2013

Stroke survivors are at a higher risk of contemplating suicide than survivors of other major health conditions, such as heart attack, diabetes and cancer, California researchers are reporting.

Nearly 8 percent of American stroke survivors have suicidal thoughts, compared with 6.2 percent of heart attack survivors, 5.2 percent of diabetes patients and 4.1 percent of cancer patients, according to researchers.

Amytis Towfighi, the study’s lead researcher, presented the research at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2013 on Thursday in Honolulu. Towfighi is the chair and chief medical officer of the Department of Neurology at Rancho Los Amigo National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Calif.

A possible link between stroke and suicide could be depression, Towfighi said.

“One can speculate that a sense of loss of hope and helplessness may play a role. That is why it is vital for stroke survivors to know what depression is common and there are effective treatments available,” she added.

In the study, researchers assessed the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among adults age 20 years and older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2005-2010. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted the national surveys.

Towfighi and colleagues reported that an estimated one-third of stroke survivors are depressed—a condition they found to be more severe in younger survivors than in older survivors.

Biological explanations, such as the area of the brain affected by the stroke, or changes in neurotransmitters, may also provide an explanation for this depression,she said.

A stroke can either occur due to a ruptured blood vessel or to a blood clot blocking the supply of blood to a particular part of the brain. As one of the leading causes of long-term disability, according to the CDC, the psychological and emotional affects of stroke can also be long term.

Depending on the area of the brain that is affected, stroke victims can have also problems with managing their moods, said Claudia Kottwitz, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, 2525 W. Peterson Ave..

“Often people can be more impulsive after a stroke. If you are impulsive and your mood is going up and down more quickly you may be at a higher risk than many who may ignore [the urge to commit suicide],” Kottwitz said.

Still, it is important for survivors to know that they can always reach out for help.

“One of the main reliefs that people get is finding out that they’re not alone. The quicker people learn coping techniques and skills, and ways of managing their symptoms, the less longer one is depressed,” she said.