Is this common behavioral health disorder linked to stroke?

Is this common behavioral health disorder linked to stroke?

Forty-five seconds. That’s how often someone in the U.S. has a stroke.

A stroke happens when blood flow to your brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die and affecting your ability to speak, remember and move. You’ve likely heard that certain physical and lifestyle factors can increase your chances of having a stroke. These include high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, a high-fat or high-salt diet, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.

But now researchers think your mental health – specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – may also increase your risk for stroke. OCD is a common, chronic behavioral health disorder in which a person has recurring thoughts like fear of contamination or a need for symmetry that make them feel driven to do something over and over, such as repeatedly washing their hands or checking something.

In a nationwide study, researchers used data collected over 11 years on more than 28,000 individuals with OCD. A control group of more than 28,000 individuals without OCD but who were similar in age, sex, health conditions and other factors were also included in the study.

After analyzing the results, the scientists found ischemic stroke was three times more common in those with OCD than in those without OCD. The increased risk was especially noted in middle-aged and elderly adults.

The risk for hemorrhagic stroke did not differ in the study. The researchers also reported OCD medications were not found to be related to stroke.

“There are several types of stroke,” explains Dr. Michael Connor, who specializes in neurology at Aurora Health Care. “But most strokes – about 87%  – are ischemic, which is caused by a blockage in the artery to the brain, often by a blood clot. Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a leaking or ruptured blood vessel in the brain.”

While the type of stroke may affect treatment, all strokes have the same symptoms, which can be remembered by BE FAST (balance, eyes, face, arms, speech, terrible headache). Dr. Connor reminds us that every second counts, so call 911 if you or a loved one is experiencing signs of stroke.

“A takeaway from this study and other research on stroke is the importance of knowing your risk factors and managing those you can control,” says Dr. Connor. “Up to 80% of strokes are preventable and connecting with your primary care physician can help you manage many of the health conditions and lifestyle factors that can lead to stroke. Now is a good time to make an appointment with your doctor so you can be well now and in the future.”

Want to learn more about your risk for stroke? Take a free online quiz here. 

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About the Author

Mary Arens
Mary Arens

Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.