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Stressed? Some Genes Could Raise Your Heart Attack Risk
  • Posted March 28, 2024

Stressed? Some Genes Could Raise Your Heart Attack Risk

Folks with genetically-driven stress are more likely to suffer heart attacks after nerve-wracking events or times of unrest, a new study shows.

People with above-average genetic scores linked to neuroticism and stress were 34% more likely to experience a heart attack following stressful periods, researchers found.

Further, these jittery individuals were more than three times as likely to have a heart attack during stressful times if they also had anxiety or depression.

"We found people who are genetically predisposed to stress tend to have a strikingly higher probability of developing a heart attack after these stressful events,"said lead researcher Dr. Shady Abohashem, an instructor of cardiovascular imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on nearly 18,500 participants in the Mass General Brigham Biobank, a program that captures genetic data for use in medical research.

Researchers compared genetic stress scores among people who had a heart attack after stressful times against those who had a heart attack during calmer times and those who'd never had a cardiac event.

For the study, periods considered to be highly stressful included:

  • The 10 days after Christmas.

  • The five days after presidential elections.

  • The five days after major sporting events like Super Bowls or NBA playoffs involving Boston-area teams.

People with above-average genetic stress scores had a 34% higher risk of heart attack during those periods than at other times of the year, even after researchers accounted for other traditional heart risk factors.

High genetic stress scores also make people more likely to experience anxiety and depression, researchers said. Having anxiety or depression accounts for nearly one-quarter of the association between genetically-driven stress and stress-triggered heart attacks.

People with the combination of an above-average genetic risk for stress and either anxiety or depression were 3.2 times more likely to have a heart attack after a stressful period, researchers found.

The findings will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting in Atlanta in early April. Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

It's not feasible to screen everyone for a genetic predisposition to stress, but the findings could still help identify people at higher risk for a heart attack by screening for anxiety or depression, Abohashem said.

"We now understand that there are certain factors driving this increase in heart attacks in those who are at increased risk,"Abohashem said in an meeting news release. "We could potentially target those people with screenings and dual-benefit interventions, such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness or other approaches that are associated with reductions in anxiety and depression and also with lowering cardiovascular risk."

More information

The American Heart Association has more on stress and heart health.

SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, March 27, 2023

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