Women may be twice as likely to experience severe depression after a stroke compared to their male counterparts, according to a new U.K. study by researchers at King’s College London.

The research team tracked the progress of symptoms over five years after stroke onset in 2,313 people (1,275 men and 1,038 women). The findings, published in the European Journal of Neurology, show that 20 percent of women suffered from severe depression compared to 10 percent of men.

“While we cannot pinpoint exactly why depression is more common among women, it could be that women draw more of their sense of self and self-worth from their social relationships and so are more sensitive to challenges in maintaining these,” said lead author Dr. Salma Ayis from the School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences at King’s College London.

“Also, as women live longer, they are more exposed to loneliness, poor physical health and loss of support, all of which could lead to depression.”

The researchers also found that initially moderate symptoms in men tend to become worse over time and that an increase in long-term symptoms of depression is linked to higher death rates in both men and women.

“What is common to both sexes is the dramatic decrease in the likelihood of survival as depression symptoms increase,” Avis said. “We believe therefore that by monitoring symptoms of depression in stroke survivors and acting accordingly, clinicians may be able to provide better long-term care.”

Patients who had their first stroke between 1998 and 2016 were recruited to the study from the South London Stroke Register (SLSR) and were monitored until July 2017. Participants’ mental health was evalated using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and cross-referenced with their physical health and socio-demographic data.

Stroke is a life-threatening medical condition that occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States with more than 140,000 people dying each year from the condition.

Although severity and symptoms are wide-ranging, about a third of all survivors experience depression following their stroke. An estimated one in six people worldwide will have a stroke in their lifetime.

Source: King’s College London