A new study has found evidence that indicates the way in which stress can cause heart attacks.
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, has found that an increase in stress often occurs alongside an increase in white blood cells, and that this could be the cause of certain heart attacks.
29 doctors had their blood taken and tested after spending a week working on the intensive care unit as this would have caused them high levels of stress throughout the week. They also completed a Cohen’s Perceived Stress Test Scale to assess the levels of stress they felt more accurately.
The researchers also caused increased stress levels in mice by confining them in isolation and also tilting their cages for an extended period of time.
In both cases, it was found that the subjects had a higher white blood cell count having experienced high levels of stress.
They found that noradrenalin in the mice, a hormone similar to adrenaline, seemed to create an increased activity in the stem cells that create the blood cells, theoretically explaining the increase in white blood cells.
These white blood cells are thought to then infiltrate the fatty plaque in that builds up in arteries, a process called atherosclerosis, and cause the plaques to ‘rupture’. This can then cause a heart attack by blocking off blood flow to the coronary arteries that supply the heart with oxygen.
This is only a relatively small sample size experiment, and there are a lot of maybes left to be answered, but this theory could explain the relationship between stress and heart attacks.