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Stress Disorders Heighten Risk of Neurodegenerative Disease

April 06, 2020

Stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress reaction, and adjustment disorder, are associated with a considerably higher risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, according to a nationwide cohort study published online in JAMA Neurology. 

The study, based in Sweden, compared a population-matched cohort of 61,748 adults older than 40 diagnosed with stress-related disorders and 595,335 matched controls without stress-related disorders. A sibling cohort included 44,839 adults with stress-related disorders and 78,482 siblings without stress-related disorders. Participants were followed for a median 4.7 years.

For adults with stress disorders, the hazard ratio for developing vascular neurodegenerative diseases was 1.80, and for developing primary neurodegenerative diseases was 1.31, compared with people without stress disorders, according to the study. The hazard ratio for Alzheimer disease was 1.36 for adults with stress disorders compared with those without stress disorders.

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“The stronger association observed for neurodegenerative diseases with a vascular component, compared with primary neurodegenerative diseases, suggested a considerable role of a possible cerebrovascular pathway,” researchers wrote. “For specific neurodegenerative diseases, we found a statistically significant association for Alzheimer’s disease but not for Parkinson disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”

Findings from the sibling cohort supported findings from the population-matched cohort, according to the study.

“The findings of this cohort study appear to support the hypothesis that individuals with a stress-related disorder diagnosis are at an increased risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease later in life, independent of multiple confounders such as familial factors,” researchers concluded. “The underlying mechanisms behind this association, primarily the role of cerebrovascular factors, warrant further studies.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Song H, Sieurin J, Wirdefeldt K, et al. Association of stress-related disorders with subsequent neurodegenerative diseases. JAMA Neurology. 2020 March 9;[Epub ahead of print].

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