How stress causes heart attacks and strokes

The reason why stress causes heart attacks and strokes may finally have been discovered by scientists, leading to hopes that it could be prevented.

For years experts have puzzled as to how chronic anxiety leads to heart problems.

But now scientists have found that people who have heightened activity in a part of the brain linked to stress – the amygdala – are more likely to develop cardiovascular events.

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Stress and Heart Attack link explained

Scientists said Sunday they may have unravelled how chronic stress leads to heart attack and stroke: triggering overproduction of disease-fighting white blood cells which can be harmful in excess.

Surplus cells clump together on the inner walls of arteries, restricting blood flow and encouraging the formation of clots that block circulation or break off and travel to another part of the body.

White blood cells “are important to fight infection and healing, but if you have too many of them, or they are in the wrong place, they can be harmful,” said study co-author Matthias Nahrendorf of the Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Doctors have long known that chronic stress leads to cardiovascular disease, but have not understood the mechanism.

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Stress can truly kill

Emotional distress, also known as psychological distress, can increase the risk of death in the general population. Anecdotal evidence has shown that distress leads to a myriad of health disorders. [Psychol Med 1995;25(5):1073-86, Ann Epidemiol 2004;14:467-72]

Emotional distress, a term referring to the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, has been linked to an increased risk of premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, susceptibility to infection and, potentially, all cancers. [Psychol Med 1995;25(5):1073-86, Ann Epidemiol 2004;14:467-72]

Signs and symptoms of depression can include fatigue and lack of energy; and feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. Signs of anxiety include the feeling of ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, pounding heart, startling easily, muscle tension, and overwhelming feelings of panic and fear.

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