Brain activity may be predictor of stress-related cardiovascular risk

August 23, 2017
Credit: copyright American Heart Association

The brain may have a distinctive activity pattern during stressful events that predicts bodily reactions, such as rises in blood pressure that increase risk for cardiovascular disease, according to new proof-of-concept research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

The new research, the largest brain-imaging study of cardiovascular stress physiology to date, introduced a brain-based explanation of why stress might influence a person's heart health.

"Psychological stress can influence physical health and risk for , and there may be biological and brain-based explanations for this influence," said Peter Gianaros, Ph.D., the study's senior author and psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

To help understand the brain-body link between stress and health, researchers conducted mental stress tests and monitored and heart rates during an MRI procedure. The mental tests were designed to create a stressful experience by having research volunteers receive negative feedback while they were making time-pressured responses to computer challenges.

Research participants - 157 men and 153 women - were 30 to 51 years old and part of the Pittsburgh Imaging Project, an ongoing study of how the brain influences . As expected, the mental stress tests increased blood pressure and heart rate in most of the volunteers compared to a non-stress baseline period.

Using machine-learning, researchers determined that a specific brain activity pattern reliably predicted the size of the volunteers' blood pressure and heart rate reactions to the mental stress tests.

The brain areas that were especially predictive of stress-related cardiovascular reactions included those that determine whether information from the environment is threatening and that control the heart and vessels through the autonomic nervous system.

The study was based on a group of middle-aged healthy adults at low levels of risk for heart disease, so the findings may not be applicable to patients with existing heart disease. Also, brain imaging does not allow researchers to draw conclusions about causality.

"This kind of work is proof-of-concept, but it does suggest that, in the future, brain imaging might be a useful tool to identify people who are at risk for heart disease or who might be more or less suited for different kinds of interventions, specifically those that might be aimed at reducing levels of stress," Gianaros said. "It's the people who show the largest stress-related cardiovascular responses who are at the greatest risk for poor cardiovascular health and understanding the mechanisms for this may help to reduce their risk."

Explore further: Impact of mental stress on heart varies between men, women

More information: Journal of the American Heart Association (2017). DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.117.006053

Related Stories

Impact of mental stress on heart varies between men, women

October 13, 2014
Men and women have different cardiovascular and psychological reactions to mental stress, according to a study of men and women who were already being treated for heart disease. The study, published today in the Journal of ...

Veterans with PTSD have an increased 'fight or flight' response

May 15, 2017
Young veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased 'fight or flight' response during mental stress, according to new findings published this week in the Journal of Physiology.

How does stress increase your risk for stroke and heart attack?

May 5, 2014
Scientists have shown that anger, anxiety, and depression not only affect the functioning of the heart, but also increase the risk for heart disease.

Study finds no gender difference in stress as a risk factor for coronary heart disease

June 15, 2017
Stress, especially in women, is increasingly being recognized as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, a condition in which blood vessels to the heart are blocked by plaque buildup or inflammation.

People with significant heart disease less able to cope with mental stress

June 7, 2016
Mental stress could put heart disease patients at increased risk of a dangerous event, such as a heart attack, according to research carried out at King's College London and St Thomas' Hospital, and presented at the British ...

Mapping reveals reactions differ in male and female brains during cardiovascular activity

May 10, 2017
A region of the brain that helps to manage body functions including stress, heart rate and blood pressure reacts differently between men and women when presented with certain stimuli, according to a new study from the UCLA ...

Recommended for you

Early study shows shoe attachment can help stroke patients improve their gait

December 14, 2017
A new device created at the University of South Florida – and including a cross-disciplinary team of experts from USF engineering, physical therapy and neurology – is showing early promise for helping correct the signature ...

Scientists rewrite our understanding of how arteries mend

December 13, 2017
Scientists from The University of Manchester have discovered how the severity of trauma to arterial blood vessels governs how the body repairs itself.

Deadly heart rhythm halted by noninvasive radiation therapy

December 13, 2017
Radiation therapy often is used to treat cancer patients. Now, doctors at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that radiation therapy—aimed directly at the heart—can be used to treat patients ...

Ultra-thin tissue samples could help to understand and treat heart disease

December 12, 2017
A new method for preparing ultra-thin slices of heart tissue in the lab could help scientists to study how cells behave inside a beating heart.

Young diabetics could have seven times higher risk for sudden cardiac death

December 12, 2017
Young diabetics could have seven times more risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest than their peers who don't have diabetes, according to new research.

Research reveals how diabetes in pregnancy affects baby's heart

December 12, 2017
Researchers at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have discovered how high glucose levels—whether caused by diabetes or other factors—keep heart cells from maturing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.