Stress is a hardwired physical response to any situation the mind may deem overwhelming. The alarm system, often described as intense and unpleasant, has become a common complaint in the 21st century. The tipping point with stress arises when it becomes too frequent or persistent. According to a new study, chronic stress, which is characterised by continuously raised levels of cortisol, could put individuals at higher risk of having stroke and heart attack, by significantly raising high blood pressure.
Study author Doctor Kosuke Inoue, said: “Previous research focused on the relationship between stress hormone levels and hypertension or cardiovascular events in patients with existing hypertension.
“However, studies looking at adults without hypertension were lacking.”
For the analysis, researchers followed 412 adults aged between 48 and 87, who had normal blood pressure at the outset of the study.
The team measured their stress hormones through urine samples at several points between 2005 and 2018.
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Hormone levels were checked when cardiovascular events occurred – including heart pain, heart attack, high blood pressure and heart bypass surgery.
The study tested three different hormones – norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine – which regulate involuntary body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.
As adrenal glands secrete cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine enter the bloodstream.
Inoue explained: “Norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol can increase with stress from life events, work, relationships, finances and more.”
As chronic stress causes these hormones to rise, triggering a constant fight-or-flight response in the body.
However, when epinephrine reaches the heart, the vital organ may pump more blood, which could cause blood pressure to rise and elevate the risk of hypertension.
The team looked at how the cortisol was released by the body in response to acute stress.
They observed that doubling levels of cortisol was associated with a 90 percent higher risk of having a cardiovascular event.
Furthermore, when all four levels of stress doubled, researchers noted the risk of developing high blood pressure rose between 21 percent and 31 percent.
The researchers noted: “In this context, our findings generate a hypothesis that stress hormones play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of hypertension among the younger populations.”
A 2018 survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74 percent of UK adults reported feeling overwhelmed with stress.
Many people confuse stress with anxiety, as the two have overlapping characteristics.
However, both responses activate different parts of the brain and have distinguishable psychological features.
The body’s main stress response starts with a series of interactions between different glands and the kidney.
This set of influences is known at the hypothalamus pituitary axis, which is instantly activated when the brain detects a stressful situation.
According to the World Health Organisation, stress has been classified as the health epidemic of the 21st century.
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