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This is how stress can cause strokes

This is how stress can cause strokes

May 18, 2024

Myocardial infarcts are the leading cause of death worldwide. It is a type of coronary accident related to lifestyle; in particular, the appearance of heart attacks is directly influenced by the stress maintained and with unhealthy habits.

In this article we will analyze the mechanisms by which Stress can make heart attacks easier . For this it is necessary that we stop previously in the definition of these two concepts.

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What is stress?

We can define stress as a set of physiological responses that occur before the appearance of stimuli or situations that the organism perceives as threatening or demanding .

These body reactions are nonspecific and stereotyped; This means that they do not depend on a specific type of environmental stimulation and that they are very similar regardless of the causes that cause them.

The physiological stress responses depend on the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and of the autonomic nervous system . The short-term effects consist of an increase in heart rate and the consumption of stored energy, as well as other signs of physical activation.

The physiologist Hans Selye described three phases of stress in his model of the General Adaptation Syndrome. During the alarm phase the body recognizes the stressor and mobilizes to face it; if stress still persists, it is passed to the resistance phase, in which the activation decreases a bit in order to maintain itself in the long term.

When the agency has consumed its resources appears the third phase, called "depletion" and characterized by the reappearance of the intense symptoms characteristic of the alarm phase. Although the advanced stages of the stress response harm the organism, the alterations usually disappear after a period of rest during which the person generates new energy reserves.

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Consequences of stress

When stress is sustained, it causes what we know as stress syndrome, consisting of the appearance of peptic ulcer, the increase in the size of the adrenal gland and the decrease in the thymus. These alterations are related to the massive secretion of glucocorticoids and the suppression of the immune response , which facilitates the development of diseases.

The current lifestyle, increasingly stressful, has promoted a clear increase in the prevalence of disorders of blood circulation, such as heart attacks and hypertension. Having high blood pressure increases the likelihood of atherosclerotic plaque accumulating, and therefore cardiovascular events.

There are also many psychological symptoms that can be influenced by stress: anxiety, irritability, apathy, sadness, emotional instability ... Among the disorders caused by stress stress anxiety and depression which, like cardiovascular disorders, are considered lifestyle diseases.

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Definition of infarction

Heart attacks are the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and its frequency does not stop growing; while in 1990 accounted for 12% of deaths, in 2013 this figure was close to 17%.

The infarction consists of the death (or necrosis) of part of the tissue of an organ. Generally, necrosis occurs as consequence of the obstruction of the artery that irrigates it .

When the necrotic tissue is in the musculature of the heart we speak of myocardial infarction. Heart attacks can also occur in other organs; Besides the heart, the most common are the brain, the kidneys and the intestine.

If the accident takes place in the kidneys we speak of renal infarction, whereas if they occur in the intestine the correct term is "mesenteric intestinal infarction". Cerebral infarcts are known as "cerebrovascular accidents" or "encephalic vascular accidents".

The arterial obstruction is usually due to the accumulation of atheromatous plaques (or atherosclerosis) but it can also be a consequence of hernias, the presence of tumors or the deformation of the organ.

Among the most relevant factors that predispose to the appearance of heart attacks are tobacco and alcohol consumption, obesity, sedentary lifestyle , diabetes and high cholesterol levels. They also occur more frequently in men, in people over 40 years of age, and in those with a family history of cardiovascular disease.

How does heart attack cause stress?

The appearance of infarcts as a result of stress is due to the conjunction of a series of interrelated causal mechanisms. In particular, scientific research has linked heart attacks with increased levels of cortisol and amygdala hyperreactivity.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone It is produced in the adrenal gland and is released in response to stress conditions. Although it is essential for the body to be able to consume energy, the excessive and continuous secretion of cortisol can inflame the arteries, narrowing them and making them easier to block.

Tonsils are two brain structures that are located in the temporal lobes and are involved in the learning emotional responses , including those of fear, anxiety and stress. When stress levels are high for much of the time, the amygdala neurons learn by classical conditioning to provoke stress responses to stimuli that do not really pose a threat.

Therefore, continued stress in itself negatively affects the cardiovascular system, but also facilitates that the amygdala associates the fear response to harmless stimuli . In this way a vicious circle takes place in which stress causes more stress, increasing the risk of heart attacks and other circulatory problems.

However, the continued practice of physical and cognitive relaxation exercises can help the body stop emitting stress responses at inappropriate times. Scientific research particularly supports the procedures of progressive muscle relaxation and slow and deep breathing.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ressler, K. J. (2010). Amygdala Activity, Fear, and Anxiety: Modulation by Stress. Biological Psychiatry, 67 (12); 1117-1119.
  • Tawakol, A. et al. (2017). Relation between resting amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events: a longitudinal and cohort study. The Lancet, 389 (10071); 834-845.

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