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Stress may raise stroke risk, study finds

A photo of a woman grimacing and putting a hand to her face.

Jan. 9, 2023—Too much stress can hurt your health—it may even boost your chances of having a stroke, an international study suggests.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, looked at data on nearly 27,000 people in 32 countries. The participants answered questions about the stress they experienced in the year before they entered the study. Those questions focused on stress at home and at work, as well as stress related to money and life events. More than 13,000 study participants had a stroke.

Among the findings:

  • Those who experienced any recent stressful event had a 17% increased risk of stroke. These events included divorce, family conflict, death of a spouse and violence.
  • People who reported being always or often stressed at work were more than twice as likely to have an ischemic stroke (the most common type of stroke, caused by a blocked artery), and more than five times as likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke (caused by bleeding in the brain), than those who reported no work stress.
  • People who reported stress at home were nearly twice as likely to have any type of stroke than those who reported no stress at home.
  • People who felt a sense of control over what happens in their lives were less likely to have a stroke than were those who did not feel in control.

What's more, the association between stress and stroke held up even after the researchers accounted for traditional stroke risk factors, including smoking and high blood pressure.

How might stress trigger stroke?

Since at least the 1990s, researchers have known that stress may increase the risk of stroke, a leading cause of disability. Stress is also linked to other conditions, like depression, anxiety and heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports.

But how might stress cause a stroke? Theories include:

  • Highly stressful situations may cause blood vessels that supply the brain to tighten and fatty plaque deposits inside them to rupture, triggering a stroke.
  • Over time, stress hormones may cause arteries to become hard and narrow, which could affect circulation to the brain.
  • Chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure, a major contributor to stroke.
  • People who experience stress may make unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overeating and not exercising, which may raise their risk of stroke.

Take control of stress

If you're feeling stressed—and who isn't?—there are steps you can take to manage it, according to the AHA. Doing so may help make life a little easier—and possibly help lower your risk of a stroke.

A few ways to manage stress include:

  • Getting regular exercise, like walking.
  • Connecting with family and friends for support.
  • Getting a good night's rest—from 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye per night.
  • Making time for hobbies and activities that bring you joy.

To learn more about the health effects of stress and how to cope well with it, check out our Stress health topic center.


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