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Chronic stress, hostility raise stroke risk

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds negative feelings increase risk of stroke or TIA

A new study published in the journal Stroke reports that chronic stress, especially when depression is involved, increases the risk of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is also referred to as mini-stroke.

Researchers for the study also found that people who harbor hostile feelings have a higher risk for suffering a stroke or mini-stroke, but the same did not apply to those who hold in anger.

Over 6,700 middle to older age adults participated in the study, answering questionnaires that were designed to compare the incidence of stroke or mini-stroke in a variety of individuals with different psychological types.

What the researchers found is that those who scored lowest, meaning those with the least healthy psychological profile, had an 86 percent higher rate of depression and a 59 percent higher rate of chronic stress, both of which put them at greater risk for suffering a full-blown stroke or mini-stroke in the future.

Those who harbored feelings of hostility, which was determined by how negatively they perceived the world based on how suspicious they were regarding other people’s motives, were also at greater risk of having a stroke or TIA. Indeed, their risk was double that of their more positive counterparts, although angry feelings had no effect on the risk of stroke or mini-stroke.

Lead study author, Dr. Susan Everson-Rose, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said that traditional risk factors like high cholesterol and blood pressure are important, but she pointed out that this particular study shows that psychological traits are just as important.

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For the study, researchers measured rates of chronic stress based on the participants’ personal health status, the health status of those closest to them, their ability to work, their relationships and their financial status.

During the decade-long study, in which participants were monitored for depression and chronic stress for a period of up to 11 years, 147 of them ended up suffering full-blown strokes, and 48 suffered mini-strokes (TIA’s).

At the end of the study, the research team analyzed all the data to compare and contrast how many strokes or mini-strokes occurred among the participants’ with different psychological profiles.

As a result, the team said that it's important and necessary to reach a better understanding of potential stroke risk factors, such as stress and negative emotions, in order to reduce the risk of stroke in an aging population.

Physiological factors that increase the risk of stroke include smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, being overweight and high blood pressure.

Nevertheless, the study authors conclude that their findings show a link between risk of stroke/mini-stroke and feelings of hostility, depression and chronic stress, which could not be attributed to traditional stroke risk factors, including inflammation or arteriosclerotic vascular disease, a condition where the arteries narrow and harden due to an excessive build up of plaque around the artery wall.

SOURCE: Chronic stress, depressive symptoms, anger, hostility, and risk of stroke and transient ischemic attack in the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Susan A. Everson-Rose, et al., Stroke, DOI 10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.004815, published online July 10 2014.



Stress is associated with a 'fight or flight' syndrome, during which the adrenal medulla produces a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamines, especially. This reaction increases blood pressure, blood sugar, heartbeat, constriction of blood vessels and more. If we increase blood pressure and heartbeat, and constrict blood vessels, we have a recipe for disaster. 'Fight or flight' is an allergic response, which leads to stress if occurring on a daily basis. The most allergenic foods are, in order of prevalence; Dairy products in all its forms and shapes, from liquid milk, animal fat called butter, to yogurt, whey, and used as additive in breads, cakes, soups, sweets, ice creams and so on, to shellfish, peanuts (especially in children) food coloring, flavorings, and MSG. The answer? avoidance of allergens! Don't know what you are allergic to? Get an allergy test done!