Stress: Our hearts’sworn enemy

A recent study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet shows that chronic stress, just like smoking, is dangerous for our hearts.



The results of this almost four year-long study of 293 patients helped researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States to find out more about activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in stress. Heightened activity here is associated with a 1.6 times increase in the likelihood of cardiovascular events.This includes strokes, heart attacks and chronic illnesses of the cardiovascular system (peripheral arterial disease, heart failure and angina).

All these cardiovascular issues arise more readily in frequently-stressed people than in calmer individuals.

Another factor to take into account is the impact of stress on the sympathetic nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the heart rate and blood pressureAll these elements can contribute to poor cardiovascular health. Researchers reached these conclusions by assessing patients’ stress levels, then their brain, spleen and bone marrow activity, and lastly, inflammation of their arteries.

A sub-study of 13 patients suffering from post-traumatic stress backed up these results. The same tests were carried out and levels of C-reactive proteins were also measured. This protein indicates inflammation in the body.

Ahmed Tawakol, the lead author of this study, believes that ‘eventually chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease’Such chronic stress is often caused by overwork, job insecurity or having to cope with poverty.