Researchers have reported that adults that have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are over three times more likely to have an ischemic stroke at some point later in life compared to people who don't have OCD; that risk was greatest among people over age 60. (Ischemic strokes happen when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked, and do not involve burst blood vessels like hemorrhagic strokes do.) These findings have been reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.
"The results of our study should encourage people with OCD to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as quitting or not smoking, getting regular physical activity and managing a healthy weight to avoid stroke-related risk factors," suggested study senior author Ya-Mei Bai, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the department of psychiatry at Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University College of Medicine.
After heart disease, stroke is the world's second most common cause of death. If treatment is rendered immediately, people can survive a stroke, but there is always a risk of permanent brain damage, disability, or death. An acronym was created to help people remember the warning signs and how to respond to a potential stroke: F.A.S.T. is for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty - time to call 911.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder that can cause unwanted and intrusive sensations, thoughts, or ideas that can drive a person to engage in repetitive behaviors like constant hand-washing, cleaning, or checking. These behaviors have a significant disruptive impact on a person's quality of life. After a stroke or brain injury, the risk of OCD increases. Researchers wanted to know if the opposite was true.
In this study, researchers assessed health records in the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database from 2001 to 2010, which included data from 28,064 adults who had been diagnosed with OCD (at an average age of 37) and 28,064 adults without OCD. Even after controlling for stroke risk factors like smoking and obesity, OCD was found to raise the risk of ischemic stroke significantly. Drugs that are prescribed to treat OCD were not linked to an increase in stroke risk.
"For decades, studies have found a relationship between stroke first and OCD later," Bai said. "Our findings remind clinicians to closely monitor blood pressure and lipid profiles, which are known to be related to stroke in patients with OCD."
This study unfortunately has not shown whether the relationship between OCD and ischemic stroke involves cause and effect; we only know there is some association.
"More research is needed to understand how the mental processes connected to OCD may increase the risk of ischemic stroke," Bai said.