Stroke and Depression – What Patients and Caregivers Should Know

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

A stroke is a medical condition which occurs when blood stops flowing to part of the brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of stroke depend on the part of brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done. If identified and treated promptly, a stroke can often have only mild consequences. However, people who have debilitating strokes can experience physical, cognitive and speech deficits.

Many patients who have suffered a stroke experience post stroke depression, or PSD, which affects about 1/3 of stroke survivors and can occur any time following a stroke. People with PSD are at higher risk for suboptimal recovery, recurrent strokes, poor quality of life, and mortality. PSD also may make the rehabilitation process more difficult for survivors to do the hard work that is required.

PSD is likely caused by a combination of biological and psychosocial factors, but the pathophysiology is complex. Some studies have found that PSD may have an underlying biological cause, with proposed biological factors including lesion location, genetic susceptibility, and inflammation. Other studies have revealed an association between PSD and physical and cognitive deficits, suggesting that PSD may be a psychological reaction to these deficits. More research is needed to better understand the cause of PSD with an aim to develop targeted interventions for prevention and treatment.

Emotional signs of PSD can include:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, nervous, guilty, irritable, or hopeless
  • No longer being interested in things you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty focussing, remembering, or making decisions
  • Constant thoughts of death

Physical signs of PSD can include:

  • Changes in sleep pattern (sleeping less or sleeping more than normal)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Feeling tired, loss of energy
  • Restlessness
  • Persistent headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Digestive problems (stomach aches, nausea, constipation, diarrhea)

You should contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks so that you can get treatment. Treatment can involve therapy by speaking to a trained mental health professional, taking medication, or both.

As difficult as it may be, sharing your feelings is a step toward meeting your recovery goals. This can include speaking to family, friends, or other stroke survivors or members of your healthcare team. You may also wish to join or start a support group. However, if any of your feelings become overwhelming, talk with your doctor right away.

If you or a loved one has suffered a stroke which you believe may be due to medical negligence, contact Pacific Medical Law. We have extensive experience in stroke cases and are committed to helping those who have suffered a stroke or other brain injury maximize their recovery.

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Andrea Donaldson


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