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Is Stress Linked To Stroke?

Is Stress Linked To Stroke?
Laura Castricone

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.   

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So, what can we do to try and decrease our stress levels?  

  • Exercise - It is known that exercise can increase levels of oxytocin in the bloodstream. Oxytocin is one of our “feel-good” hormones. Exercise can be minimal or vigorous to release these endorphins.  
  • Meditation - When we still our minds to meditate, we are trying not to think of our everyday stressors. Using guided meditation can help distract the mind from the stress of life  
  • Keep in contact with others - As humans, we are very social and enjoy the company of others. Try to make time to spend with those that help uplift your spirits. Join a group of like-minded people. 
  • Manage your social media time - Even though many of us keep in touch with our friends and family through social media outlets, it can be depressing when we see what wonderful or exciting lives others may be having as they post pictures of their activities. Don’t fall victim to this. No one has a perfect life. If you are struggling emotionally, limit how much exposure you have to social media. And take what people do and say with a grain of salt. Everyone wants those around them to think that they have no issues and that their lives are perfect. Perfect is what makes YOU happy.  
  • Get adequate sleep - If you are not sleeping at least 7 hours as an adult, then you are not sleeping enough. Lack of sleep, sleep disorders, or insomnia can increase the amount of cortisol that is dumped into your system during sleep. This can lead to an increase in blood sugar and fat levels.  
  • Eat well - Sugars and processed foods increase cortisol levels. Try a diet with fruits, vegetables, and fiber-filled foods. It is now known that gut health is important in regulating hormones in the body.  
  • Engage in deep breathing exercises. There is no need to spend money on special classes or anything else when you can do some deep breathing exercises at home, or work whenever you need to. Using the 4-7-8 technique can help enormously in slowing down breathing and distracting your mind.   

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. 


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HPFY Laura Castricone

Laura Castricone

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My name is Laura Castricone and I am a Certified Respiratory Therapist. I have been practicing in the state of Connecticut since 1992. I have worked in several aspects of respiratory care ...

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