Stress Tied to Heart Inflammation

Heart inflammation associated with higher traumatic stress exposure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Individuals exposed to a higher number of stressful traumatic events in their lives may be more likely to suffer higher levels of cardiovascular inflammation later in life.

In a study that marked the first to examine the relationship between heart inflammation and cumulative traumatic stress exposure, researchers found people exposed to increased lifetime stress were more likely to have elevated inflammatory markers in their bloodstream.

"Take a yoga class to relieve stress."

Aoife O’Donovan, lead author and a Society in Science: Branco Weiss Fellow in psychiatry at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, said that the findings could be significant for individuals with heart disease because it is known that patients with cardiovascular disease that have higher levels of inflammation tend to have worse outcomes.

During the study researchers evaluated 979 patients between the ages of 45 and 90 with stable heart disease for exposure to 18 different traumatic events related to a direct threat to their life or physical integrity. Investigators then took blood from patients and measured clinical markers for heart inflammation, finding a link between lifetime stress exposure and inflammation.

Five years later, researchers again measured inflammation level markers, and discovered that the patients who had initially reported the greatest levels of trauma still had the highest inflammation. The association remained in effect after adjustments for psychiatric disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

The study did not examine the potential reason for the link, though O’Donovan suggested it could be because people become more sensitive to threats after traumatic stress. She said the added sensitivity is "pro-survival" because in a dangerous situation that alertness can help a person avoid future harm.

She said that individuals with heightened threat sensitivity may also demonstrate increased inflammatory responses more often and for longer periods so that the inflammation remains chronically high.

Researchers suggest younger individuals could lower some of this stress through exercises such as yoga, or other techniques to lower stress.

The study was recently published in journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

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Review Date: 
March 30, 2012
Last Updated:
March 31, 2012