How stress increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke by a staggering 60 per cent

The risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke rises by a staggering 60 per cent when people are feeling stressed, according to new research. Medics monitored 300 people over a number of years, giving them brain scans and looking at their arteries.

They found that both suffered when people were feeling anxious. They found that in people who were feeling stressed, signals were sent to the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells which, in turn, can inflame the arteries and increase health risks. This is because stress was found to cause heightened activity in a part of the brain known as the amygdala.

Emily Reeve from the British Heart Foundation said that links made between stress and an increased risk of heart disease had previously been connected to lifestyle habits which people have when feeling stressed, such as smoking, drinking or comfort eating. An estimated 2.3m Britons have coronary heart disease and the new research provided some insight into the way which suffering from stress could lead to heart disease.

Reducing stress

According to the lead author of the research, Dr Ahmed Tawakol from Harvard University, reducing stress could have physical benefits, and not just an improved sense of wellbeing. Currently, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking are all considered to be risk factors for developing heart disease. But researchers say chronic stress should be considered a warning sign too.

Dr Ilze Bot from Leiden University in The Netherlands said that people were experiencing more stress than every before as a result of heavy workloads, job fears or living in poverty. He added that this latest data suggested a strong connection between stress and heart disease, so family doctors ought to consider stress when they are looking at risk factors for patients. The research has now been published in the respected The Lancet journal.


Judith is a qualified journalist who has worked in both the UK and the US, specialising in writing about politics, education and health.