According to a new Swedish study, people exposed to psychological trauma or stressful events have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Indeed, the researchers found that stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 60%.
Stress caused by the loss of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness, natural disasters or violence are not only harmful to well-being and psychological health but are also bad for the heart and arteries.
In a new Swedish study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), researchers have examined the consequences of stressful or traumatic situations on cardiovascular health. They concluded that the risk of serious and acute cardiovascular events, such as cardiac arrest and heart attack, was particularly high in the first six months after the diagnosis of a stress disorder, and during the first year for other types of cardiovascular diseases.
Several studies have already examined the impact of stress on cardiovascular health, particularly among veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But because of the small cohorts, data on stress and its impact on cardiovascular disease was limited.
To better understand this link, the authors of this new study used the Swedish registers for the population and health . In total, the medical records of 136,637 individuals diagnosed with a stress-related disorder between January 1987 and December 2013 were analyzed. These data were then cross-tabulated with 171,314 siblings who had neither stress-related nor cardiovascular disease.
The researchers found that severe stress reactions to life events or trauma were linked to an increased risk of 64% of several types of cardiovascular disease, especially in the first year after diagnosis.
They also demonstrated a closer link between stress-related disorders and early-onset cardiovascular disease (under age 50) than those that emerged later. People diagnosed with stress disorder when they were young also had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The authors of the study make it clear that they are only observational work and therefore can not establish the cause of cardiovascular disease. They point out, however, that their study is the first to explore the association between a number of stress-related disorders including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, and several types of cardiovascular disease using sibling-based comparisons, both for men and women.
According to them, these results should make doctors aware of the “strong” link between stress-related disorders and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in the months following diagnosis. “These findings call for increased clinical awareness and, if verified, early surveillance or intervention in patients who have recently been diagnosed with stress-related disorders,” they conclude.