Long-term stress significant factor in raised stroke risk


LONG-TERM stress can significantly increase your risk of suffering a stroke, according to new research.

Having a hot-tempered or aggressive character also increases the risk of stroke, the research published today in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry finds.

Up to now chronic stress, manifested in physical or mental symptoms lasting more than six months, has been linked to a heightened risk of heart disease. However, the effect of the stress caused by major life events or depression on stroke had been unclear.

Spanish researchers have now established that the risk of stroke is almost four times higher among those who experience a major life event in the preceding year.

Having a Type-A personality – characterised by hostility, aggression, impatience and a quick temper – more than doubled a person’s stroke risk, as did a current or previous history of smoking and an intake of two or more energy drinks a day.

The Irish Heart Foundation said the research highlighted the need for people to manage stress by changing their lifestyle in a positive way.

It said exercises helped to relieve stress and improve sleep, and it also recommended people eat more fruit and vegetables, quit smoking, drink less alcohol and have blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.

Medical director Dr Angie Brown said that although hormones such as adrenaline were useful in small amounts, too many of them could cause high blood pressure and may alter the way the blood clots.

“When people are stressed they often overeat, exercise less, drink more alcohol, have poor sleep patterns and are more likely to smoke, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The researchers at Madrid’s University Hospital based their study on 150 adults, with an average age of 54, who had been admitted to a stroke unit. This group was compared to 300 randomly selected healthy people of a similar age who lived in the same neighbourhood.

Levels of chronic stress were assessed by looking at major life events; symptoms such as anxiety and depression; general wellbeing; and behaviour patterns indicative of a Type-A personality.

Participants were also assessed for risk factors for stroke, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, any history of heart rhythm abnormalities and daytime sleepiness.

Other factors which were independently associated with a heightened risk of stroke were heart rhythm disturbances and those with a high daytime sleepiness. Both groups were three times more likely to have a stroke.