May 27, 2021
Adults living with obsessive compulsive disorder, a common mental disorder in which the person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and behaviors, have more than three times the risk of stroke, according to Taiwanese researchers.
The study leaders aren't sure why, but they speculate that the presence of other mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression may play a role, as well as other comorbidities like hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
Still, after adjusting for stroke-related comorbidities such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) remained an independent risk factor for ischemic stroke, according to study co-author Tai-Long Pan, a professor at the Chang Gung University in Taoyuan.
"Clinicians should closely monitor cerebrovascular disease and related risks in patients with OCD," Pan said.
People with OCD are unable to stop intrusive thoughts and compulsions like the need to wash their hands more than necessary. These compulsions and obsessions can become all-consuming, affecting their ability to do normal activities such as going to work or school.
The researchers emphasized that they didn't confirm a direct cause-effect relationship, only an association between the two health conditions.
Pan and his team used Taiwanese national health data on more than 28,000 adults with obsessive compulsive disorder and 28,000 adults without the disorder. Over a 11-year period, the study participants who had obsessive compulsive disorder were three times more likely to have a stroke than those without it.
Those at greatest risk were people aged 60 years and older who were diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.
There are two types of strokes. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries delivering blood to the brain. The researchers didn't find that obsessive compulsive disorder increased the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which causes bleeding in the brain, only ischemic stroke.
Medications commonly prescribed to treat obsessive compulsive disorder didn't seem to affect a person's risk for stroke, the researchers also found.
Pan said healthy lifestyle habits such as quitting smoking and regular exercise are important for stroke prevention and that patients with obsessive compulsive disorder need to be aware of their heightened stroke risk.
Dr. Larry Goldstein, chairman of the University of Kentucky department of neurology in Lexington, told U.S. News & World Report that while the relative risk of ischemic stroke is a lot higher for this population, the absolute risk for individual patients remains low – less than one percent. He was not involved in the study.
Goldstein explained that the findings might have been influences by other factors the researchers couldn't control for, and that more research is needed to confirm these findings.
The findings were published in the journal Stroke.