A new health study revealed the link between stress and increased risks of heart attack. The research showed how strenuous brain activity can cause cardiovascular diseases among humans. Although the mechanism is yet to be confirmed through more research and larger scale studies, scientists believe that the research results can help in finding a treatment to cardiovascular diseases.
The research published by the Lancet last week informed the public on how a heightened activity in a region of the brain involved in stress (or the amygdala) can cause a greater risk of heart disease, Furthermore, it was found out that stress can also lead to types of stroke. While diabetes, smoking cigarettes and high blood pressure are the more well-known risk factors for heart diseases, chronic psychosocial stress was found out to also be a risk factor.
According to Live Science, there were previous animal studies done by researchers where stress was found out to have caused stress and higher activity in the arteries as well as the bone marrow. However, it is still unclear whether this mechanism also applies to humans. From another study, it was found out that the amygdala becomes more active in people experiencing anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. This was the first time that researchers pinpoint at a region of the brain that links stress to increased risks of heart attack and stroke.
As reported by CNN, the study involved 293 patients who have undergone a combined PET/CT scan to look into brain, bone marrow and spleen activities and to see any inflammation of their arteries. These participants were then tracked for an average of 3.7 years to find out if any of them developed cardiovascular disease. Following this, it was found out that 22 of the 293 patients experienced cardiovascular events such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, angina, and peripheral arterial disease. Furthermore, it was discovered that those who have had higher amygdala activity during the observation period had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and have developed heart problems sooner than those who were less stressed out.
Like the study on the animals, the researchers discovered that a heightened activity in the amygdala led to an increased bone marrow activity as well as inflammation in the arteries. This suggests that stress may cause an increased risks of heart attack. The authors of the research suggested a scenario where the amygdala sends signals to the bone marrow causing it to produce extra white blood cells which can cause the arteries to develop plaques and later become inflamed. This in turn causes heart attack and stroke.
A smaller study was then performed where 13 patients with a history of PTSD had their stress levels assessed by a psychologist. These patients underwent a PET scan and later had their levels of C-reactive protein measured. Following this, it was found out that those with the highest levels of amygdala activity had more signs of inflammation in their blood vessels and arteries.
As cited by the same report, lead author Dr. Ahmed Tawakol of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School spoke about the aim of the study saying, "This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing." With this, Tawakol said that stress can then be considered as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The good news though is that stress can be managed, hence preventing an increased risks of heart attacks.