To understand how stress can make you more susceptible to having a stroke, you must first understand what happens to our bodies when we are under stress.
Currently, stress can be found in almost every person and almost every walk of life. We have undergone many changes as a society in the past few years and have endured many stressors such as a pandemic, social restrictions, financial strains, isolation, loss of jobs or loved ones, more responsibilities to care for children and our elderly family members, and the list goes on. When we experience a period of stress many changes take place in our bodies.
Stress can cause us to be exposed to toxins produced by our bodies. When we are under stress, we release cortisol which is our “fight or flight” hormone. Our heart rate increases and our heart has to work harder which can increase blood pressure. Cortisol can increase fat and sugar levels in the blood and in turn, all of these changes in our blood chemistry can cause clots to form. Strokes occur when a clot travels through a blood vessel and gets stuck and blocks off the flow of blood to part of the brain. The part of the brain that is affected dies due to lack of blood flow and this causes what we call a “stroke.” When a stroke occurs, it can affect any part of the brain. Affected parts of the brain may control speech, movement, vision, or cognition. Once the brain tissue dies, it cannot regenerate.
A recent study published by the American Heart Association journal “Stroke,” showed that participants who reported the highest stress levels were 33% more likely to have a stroke than those who reported less stress or anxiety levels. This study involved 6,000 participants who were followed over 22 years. When we refer to stress in these studies, we are not talking about one or two bad or stressful days. People who fall into this category are experiencing “chronic stress.” This chronic stress condition causes increased inflammation in the arteries and other parts of the body. This inflammation can narrow or make blood vessels weak. Weakened vessels can form clots more easily, rupture, or leak causing decreased or absent blood flow to parts of the brain, then stroke occurs.
Stress is a killer! Stroke is only one of its side effects. It can also cause cardiovascular problems, mental disorders, eating disorders, and other issues. If you or anyone that you love is experiencing more stress than is normal or is visibly being affected by their stress, encourage them to seek medical treatment and support.
Author Profile: Laura Castricone, Respiratory Therapist
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