Patients with heightened activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in stress, could be at greater risk of heart disease and stroke, according to new research from Harvard Medical School.
The findings, published very recently in the Lancet, could be a starting point in finding new ways to target and treat stress-related heart and circulatory disease.
Whilst more research is needed, this study sheds new light on risk factors for coronary heart disease. Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes are well-known risk factors, but this research suggests the possibility of a direct link between stress levels and heart disease.
Previously, animal studies identified a link between stress and higher activity in the bone marrow and arteries, but it has remained unclear whether this also applies to humans. Other research has also shown that the amygdala is more active in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, but before this study no research had identified the region of the brain that links stress to the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Response to the study
Emily Reeve, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The link between stress and increased risk of developing heart disease has previously focused on the lifestyle habits people take up when they feel stressed such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating.
“Exploring the brain’s management of stress and discovering why it increases the risk of heart disease, will allow us to develop new ways of managing chronic psychological stress.
“This could lead to ensuring that patients who are at risk are routinely screened and that their stress is managed effectively.”
To learn more about the work of the British Heart Foundation visit www.bhf.org.uk