Stress is a leading factor for heart attacks and strokes

2022-01-03 20:44:30
Stress is a leading factor for heart attacks and strokes

You’re probably familiar with these major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity.

But chronic psychological stress, recent studies indicate, may be as important — and possibly more important — to the health of your heart.

In fact, in people with less-than-healthy hearts, mental stress trumps physical stress as a potential precipitant of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, according to the latest report.

The new study, published in November in JAMA, assessed the fates of 918 patients known to have underlying, but stable, heart disease to see how their bodies reacted to physical and mental stress.

The participants underwent standardized physical and mental stress tests to see if their hearts developed myocardial ischemia — a significantly reduced blood flow to the muscles of the heart, which can be a trigger for cardiovascular events — during either or both forms of stress. Then the researchers followed them for four to nine years.

The study participants who experienced ischemia during one or both tests were more likely to have a nonfatal or fatal heart attack in the years that followed.

How stress damages the heart

It all starts in the brain’s fear center, the amygdala, which reacts to stress by activating the so-called fight-or-flight response, triggering the release of hormones that over time can increase levels of body fat, blood pressure and insulin resistance.

Furthermore, the cascade of reactions to stress causes inflammation in the arteries, fosters blood clotting and impairs the function of blood vessels, all of which promote atherosclerosis, the arterial disease that underlies most heart attacks and strokes.

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