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Study finds a link between stroke and depression

October 1, 1999
Web posted at: 3:08 p.m. EDT (1908 GMT)

graphic

From Health Correspondent Holly Firfer

(CNN) -- Guy Gunter Jr. considers himself a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. At 81, he still goes to work five days a week, flies his own airplane and spends time with his new girlfriend.

"I enjoy every day," he says. "At my age, you are lucky if you wake up, you know, so you kind of look forward to that day."

But after surviving what doctors call a "silent" stroke, where there are no obvious symptoms, and another larger stroke that left his left side weak, his outlook wasn't so rosy.

"I was depressed a little, but not too much, because 'This too shall pass,'" he says.

Gunter's situation is not unusual. In a study from Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association, doctors say there is a link between silent strokes and depression.

  DOCTOR Q&A:
Read what doctors have to say about depression or ask your own questions.

"There are theories that the neurotransmitters in the brain that control mood can be altered with a stroke," said physiatrist Dr. Maria Tolotta.

During a stroke, there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain, causing part of the brain to die.

These smaller strokes can cause memory or concentration problems or even make it difficult to walk. Many people become lethargic, lose interest in regular activities, lose their appetites, feel hopeless or sad.

"These small, little strokes interrupt the serotonin and norepinephrine, the systems that we know are very important in causing depression," said psychiatrist Dr. William McDonald.

Often, this depression is associated with old age, these small strokes go undiagnosed, and the depression goes untreated.

Now researchers are looking at whether those who suffer from the silent strokes are at risk of developing larger, more damaging, strokes.

If they can find this connection, doctors say diagnosing depression among the elderly may lead to the discovery of small stroke damage in the brain, possibly making it easier to prevent a larger stroke.



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