It looks like there is a strong connection between the mind and heart. A recent study shows that stress can increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks. The scientists discovered that people with a higher amygdala activity had a higher risk of having strokes or heart attacks than those with a lower amygdala activity.
This part of the brain is the one associated with fear and stress. According to Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, the lead author of the study and a cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, this is the first study about stress which finds a connection between a part of the brain and heart.
Tawakol explains that although it has been known for a long time that a higher level of stress influences the development of heart disease, the experts couldn’t find the mechanism responsible for this association.
Roughly 300 adults participated in the study. All of them were 30 years old or more. In the first part of the study, all participants were healthy. More precisely, none had any cardiovascular condition.
The scientists used brain scans to check the stress activity in the amygdala. Also, they analyzed the levels of bone marrow activity and inflammation of blood vessels in the body. The team tracked the participants for almost four years.
During this time, 22 of them had a cardiovascular event, including strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure. Based on the study findings, the researchers discovered that those who had higher levels of amygdala activity were more prone to have a heart attack or stroke. Worse, the levels of bone marrow activity and inflammation in the blood vessels were higher among those patients.
According to the team, both can play a major role in the development of atherosclerosis, a condition that increases the likelihood of heart disease in patients. Tawakol adds that the bone marrow is activated by stress. Then it produces more white blood cells, thus increasing the risk of inflammation.
The researchers conducted a second study which involved 13 people who had stress disorders, including PTSD. The participants completed a questionnaire related to their stress levels and went under brain scans. At the end of the study, the experts established that those patients had a higher risk of having a cardiovascular event.
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