Don't Stress, But Stress Might Be Killing You

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.

You probably know that being under a lot of stress isn't great for your health. And while stress has already been linked to cardiovascular disease before, a new study may have discovered how stress can increase your risk for heart disease.

According to the study, published in The Lancet, having a more active amygdala — the region of the brain that is triggered by stress — is linked to a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.

For the study, researchers examined 293 participants without heart problems, administering PET/CT brain scans that measured brain activity, bone marrow activity, and inflammation of the arteries. The patients were then tracked over a period of three to four years to see if they developed cardiovascular diseases or experienced serious cardiac occurrences. During the research period, 22 participants experienced cardiovascular events including heart attacks, strokes, and angina — leading researchers to conclude that those with more active amygdala activity in their brains were more susceptible to heart problems than those with lower activity.

Not only that, those with more active amygdalas were more likely to have inflammation in their arteries, as well as bone marrow activity that may be linked with blood clots, suggesting that this may cause the increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

"Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease," Ahmed Tawakol, MD, author of the study, said in a press release. "This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing."

However, researchers also noted that more research is needed in order to definitively conclude that stress could actively cause serious heart events. Either way, as Dr. Tawakol said, it's still a good idea to do what we can to reduce our levels of tension — even if we might not be able to completely get rid of stress.