Using brain scans, a recent study found that stress and fear can lead to increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Amygdala, the nut-sized structure that is the brain’s fear center, which is also associated with some stress forms, became the core of interest. The research team found that people with active amygdalas at the time of brain scans usually had a stroke, heart attack and other heart ailments after three to four years.
Those whose amygdalas were active had more inflammation of the arteries, which is associated with heart health issues and activity in the bone marrow. Blood clots and bone marrow are likewise closely linked.
Stress has been known to be a contributor to various conditions, like high blood pressure, bowel syndrome, asthma and ulcers. It also has a negative impact on the heart’s health, at times, due to coping habits like smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.
Linking stress to heart disease is a common knowledge but the physiological process behind it is not clearly understood. What does a particular feeling formed in the brain has to do with the heart’s physical health?
The research team from Mount Sinai Hospital’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York and General Hospital in Massachusettes led by Dr. Ahmed Tawakol made an investigation to have an insight on such interesting question. The result of the study published in the medical journal, The Lancet on Jan. 11, Wednesday, provided a new information on how heart health and stress are linked.
First, a study was done at MGH where they looked into positron emission tomograph or PET, as well as computed tomography or CT scans of 293 patients, Medical News Today reported. The scans used a utilized radiopharmaceutical fluorodeoxygucose to simultaneously gauge brain activity and the inflammation level in arteries.
All the subjects did not have health issues at the time of the scan, and the screenings were mostly pertinent to cancer. The patients’ medical records showed they had a minimum of three clinical visits in the following five years.
Within three to four years after the scan, researchers watched the subjects and noted who had strokes, heart attacks and other heart disease. Twenty-two of the subjects did. They were those who had more active amygdalas based on their previous scan results.
Also found was a hint on how it happened. There were more activity going on in the bone marrows which lead to inflammation.
Another study, a smaller one, was done at the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute at ISMMS which involved 13 patients who have a history of post-traumatic stress disorder. The research team evaluated the subjects’ levels of perceived stress and had them scanned. They found that the stress levels of the participants were linked to the activity in the arterial inflammation and amygdala.
The researchers suggested there should be another study that would cover more people who do not have any disease to really pinpoint pure stress and fear. For instance, cancer can cause stress and chemotherapy can damage some parts of the body that lead to heart disease.
The result of the study of Dr. Tawakol and his team is interesting and it showed the biological link between stress and the events happening in the heart. To conclude, stress is just not good for the health, cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg of New York University Langone Medical Center told NBC News.