Stroke Survivors At High Risk Of Suicidal Thoughts
February 8, 2013

One In Twelve Stroke Survivors Have Thoughts Of Suicide

Jason Pierce, MSN, MBA, RN for — Your Universe Online

According to a new study presented at the American Stroke Association´s International Stroke Conference 2013, nearly eight percent of stroke survivors in the US may have thought about suicide or wished themselves dead.

A stroke is caused by a lack of adequate blood flow to brain tissue resulting in permanent tissue injury. Blood flow to the brain may be blocked due to clots or other obstructions, or interrupted by ruptured vessels and bleeding within the skull. The resulting damage to brain tissue can cause long term disability for stroke survivors. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States.

At the time of the research there were 6.2 million stroke survivors living in the United States. Previous studies have indicated that one third of these individuals experience depression, and that depression leads to poorer long-term outcomes for stroke survivors. Prior to this study, however, there have been few studies that examined the number of these individuals who contemplate suicide. The goal of this study was to investigate how many stroke survivors reported having suicidal thoughts.

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) collected from 2005 to 2010. NHANES is a series of cross-sectional surveys designed to provide representative data on of the health of American citizens. The surveys contain information obtained from interviews and physical examinations of participating adults and children.

The findings indicated that some 7.8 percent of stroke survivors experience suicidal thoughts. Lead author Amytis Towfighi, M.D., an assistant professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and chair of the Department of Neurology at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, stated that the increased incidence of suicidal thoughts in stroke survivors was striking when compared to other chronic conditions. For example, only 6.2 percent of individuals who survive heart attacks and 4.1 percent of cancer patients have such thoughts.

Stroke survivors who experienced more severe depression were more likely to have suicidal thoughts, but the study did not examine whether their degree of disability had an impact as well. The study also did not investigate whether the type of stroke — hemorrhagic or ischemic — contributed to the degree of depression or occurrence of suicidal thoughts.

Towfighi suggests that the results can be used to better meet the needs of stroke survivors who may be wrestling with depression and thoughts of suicide. "Given the high prevalence of suicidal thoughts among stroke survivors, perhaps regular screening for suicidal ideation, in addition to depression, is warranted,” said Towfighi.

Screening involves asking targeted questions designed to assess whether an individual may be experiencing suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide. If the screening reveals a risk for suicidal ideation then health care providers can develop appropriate treatment plans to reduce the risk of suicide and improve health outcomes for stroke survivors.

Interestingly, this study comes shortly after a January research report indicated that depression can increase stroke risk for the elderly.