Chronic Stress Predicts Heart Disease Risk, Research Shows

Chronic Stress Levels May Predict Heart Events
So-called "stress puppies" may be more likely to succumb to heart disease, researchers find. Creative Commons

People who are "mentally vulnerable" to stress may experience a significantly higher risk for heart disease, a new study shows.

Researchers in Denmark found that people more susceptible to stress have a higher risk of heart events, both fatal and non-fatal. The researchers followed nearly 11,000 Danes, measuring their "mental vulnerability" on a 12-point scale for symptoms of mental and physical stress. They found a correlation between high vulnerability and heart events, independent of risk factors such as smoking, cholesterol and age.

Presenting their findings at a conference in Rome, the researchers said they found a 36 percent higher risk of heart events among people with stress-prone personality types.

"So mental vulnerability might describe a 'new dimension' when compared to the five classical risk factors, but to take this forward we need to identify sub-groups of the population where mental vulnerability does improve risk prediction beyond the classic risk factors," Dr. Anders Borglykke, of the Research Centre for Prevention and Health at Glostrup University Hospital, said in a statement.

Analysts say the findings strengthen the link between stress and cardiovascular disease. Past studies, including one from Duke University in 2006, found that regular anxiety, depression and hostility increase a person's risk of heart disease significantly. Similarly, previous research has shown that so-called "type A" personalities — competitive, impatient and stringent — face higher risks for heart disease, with one notable study demurring.

But stresses derived from sources other than personality type, including environmental stress related to the workplace, also increase the risk of heart attack. The Danish researchers suggested that managing known triggers of chronic stress would help to reduce the risk of heart events.

(See also: "Stress In Squirrels Brings Fast Growth; But Is There A Hidden Tax?")

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