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Dr. Jennifer Beauchamp

Seeing the light

Improving the diagnosis and treatment of post-stroke anxiety

More than 795,000 individuals suffer a stroke each year in the United States. Even though post-stroke depression affects about one-third of these patients, significant gaps exist in the identification and management of the psychological effects of stroke, such as post-stroke anxiety. 

“While we’ve known that post-stroke anxiety is common and disabling, there was not a lot of research on factors linked to anxiety,” says Jennifer E. S. Beauchamp, PhD, RN. “Our study delved deeper into a cohort of racially and ethnically diverse stroke patients, shedding light on those factors to enable earlier detection and personalized intervention.” 

Beauchamp and the research team, which included Sean I. Savitz, MD, Sudha Tallavajhula, MD, and Anjail Z. Sharrief, MD, and other members of UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, found that unmarried, depressed, or excessively fatigued people who suffer stroke are more likely to develop post-stroke anxiety, a known risk factor for suffering another stroke. 

“These findings highlight the importance of understanding social support after stroke,” she says. The association between post-stroke anxiety and unmarried status supports other research that shows isolation and loneliness negatively impact psychological and physical health, according to Beauchamp. Biological factors, such as the location of a stroke lesion and psychological response to stroke, may also play a role in the development of post-stroke anxiety. 

“We were not surprised to find that stroke survivors with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety also reported a greater number of sleep apnea symptoms, specifically fatigue, which can also lead to depression and worsen existing symptoms of anxiety,” she says. “Therefore, managing sleep apnea in stroke survivors may also decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, ultimately improving their quality of life.” 

Beauchamp notes that the COVID-19 pandemic presents additional challenges to the psychological well-being of these patients. “Stroke survivors, particularly unmarried individuals, are already at risk for post-stroke anxiety, depression, and isolation, and the forced isolation because of the pandemic only increases their risk.” 

Health care providers will be able to use the results of this study to develop screening measures to identify stroke survivors who may be at risk for experiencing symptoms of post-stroke anxiety. They may also consider developing multifaceted, personalized interventions to target post-stroke anxiety and associated factors, such as depression and fatigue. 

Philanthropic support can help provide the spark to illuminate pressing brain and behavioral health issues. “As we look toward the future, the generosity of donors will enable my team to expand on this work to improve the psychological health of stroke survivors and their loved ones,” says Beauchamp.

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