Daily stress may put you at risk of stroke and heart disease

The amygdala is known to process emotions such as fear and anger and the finding sheds light on the possible mechanism by which stress can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD), say the study authors.

In the United States, more than one in three adults has at least one type of cardiovascular disease, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country.

"We were surprised at how robustly amygdalar activity predicted hard cardiovascular events, along with providing information on the timing of those events", Tawakol said.

The team think this is because the stressed brain sends signals to the bone marrow to produce extra white blood cells, which play a crucial role in supporting the immune system - a natural defence mechanism if someone feels under threat. And in recent years, science has shown that there's actually something to it: People undergoing emotional stress are in fact more likely to develop heart disease.

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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.

Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke from stress normally focused on controlling lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating - but this should change.

Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes are well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease and chronic psychosocial stress could also be a risk factor.

The researchers likewise found that individuals with more active amygdala had more inflammation in their arteries, which is associated with heart disease, and increased bone marrow activity that may be associated with blood clots.

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In addition, heightened activity in the amygdala was associated with greater amounts of inflammation in the blood vessels and higher levels of activity in the parts of the bone marrow where new blood cells are made, according to the study. The scans showed that those with enhanced activity (the 22 subjects) in the region of the brain called the amygdala were more likely than others to develop cardiovascular diseases, including having a higher risk of a heart attack.

He added that the study could provide new insights into how to reduce stress-related cardiovascular diseases. As well, they noticed that the higher the activity level was in the amygdala, the sooner the heart problem occurred.

The authors acknowledge that further research involving more people will be needed to confirm their results.

People often develop chronic stress if they live in poverty, have heavy workloads or are anxious about losing their jobs.

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After observing the risk of heart disease brought about by that particular area of the brain, help can be provided to people who fall within this group to manage stress.