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Chronic Stress Linked to Stroke Risk

Diane Fennell

August 31, 2012

Chronic stress is linked with an increased risk of stroke, according to research recently published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in people with diabetes.

Chronic stress in response to stressors lasting longer than six months has previously been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, but the effect of long-term stress on stroke risk was not well established. To determine the impact of chronic stress on stroke risk, researchers in Madrid, Spain looked at 150 adults with an average age of 54 who had been admitted to a stroke unit, as well as 300 randomly selected healthy people of a similar age who lived in the same neighborhood.

The participants’ levels of chronic stress were assessed by looking at major life events; general well-being; symptoms like anxiety and depression; and behaviors indicative of a Type A personality, such as hostility, aggression, impatience, and a quick temper. Participants were also evaluated for biological risk factors for stroke such as diabetes, high blood pressure, daytime sleepiness, high cholesterol, and a history of heart rhythm abnormalities. They were additionally asked about their lifestyle, including their alcohol, energy drink, and caffeine intake; whether they had a job; whether they had a partner; and whether they smoked.

The researchers found that several factors were independently associated with an increased risk for stroke. Having experienced a major life event in the previous year was linked with a stroke risk four times that of the healthy control group. Having a Type A personality was linked with a doubled risk of stroke, as was smoking or consuming two or more energy drinks per day. Those with daytime sleepiness or a history of heart rhythm disturbances were three times as likely to have a stroke, and men were nine times as likely.

When all of the factors were evaluated together, however, a stressful life and Type A behaviors were found to be associated with an increased risk of stroke, regardless of other risk factors such as gender.

“When people are stressed they often overeat, exercise less, drink more alcohol, have poor sleep patterns and are more likely to smoke, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease,” noted Dr. Angie Brown, Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the study.

For more information, read the article “Chronic Stress Linked to High Risk of Stroke” or see the study’s abstract in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. And to learn more about managing your stress levels, see the articles “Relaxation Techniques for Stressful Times” and “Stress: Finding Peace Amid the Storm.”



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