Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of heart attack

A new study by scientists from Linköping University in Sweden shows that prolonged stress is a risk factor for heart attacks. Patients who suffered a heart attack had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the month preceding the event. The work was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the study, Swedish researchers used hair samples 1 to 3 centimeters long, which corresponds to 1 to 3 months of hair growth. This method allows cortisol levels to be measured similar to the annual rings on a tree. The scientists measured the amount of the stress hormone in samples from 174 men and women who had been hospitalized with a myocardial infarction. Hair samples from more than 3,000 participants of similar age were used as a control group.

The researchers showed that heart attack patients had statistically significantly higher cortisol levels in the month preceding the event. This means that chronic stress is a significant risk factor for acute myocardial infarction.

Researchers cannot fully explain what causes the high cortisol levels observed in the study participants. This is because stress can be the result of either internal factors, such as another illness, or external factors, such as economic difficulties or important life events. Experts also believe that feelings of stress do not always correspond to biological stress within the body. A person may feel stressed while there are no stress processes going on in the body. And vice versa: the body's stress systems can be very active even if a person is not feeling stressed.

Feb. 11, 2021, 2:05 p.m.

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