A study published in the Lancet journal suggests that there is a strong link between brain structure and activity and an increased risk of heart attacks.
A deep-lying region of the brain can help ascertain the level of risk for an individual, according to the published research.
Scientists studied 300 people, and those with higher activity in the amygdala were associated with a greater cardiovascular disease risk.
While researchers also discovered that stress can be just as important as a risk factor as smoking and high blood pressure.
The study was led by a team from Harvard Medical School.
Stress has frequently been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but this research is thought to be the first example of the root cause being documented.
Dr Ahmed Tawakol, lead author and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, suggested that as research is beginning to understand this phenomenon more clearly, doctors may begin to advise reducing stress as a prognosis.
“Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease. This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing.”
And Tawakol also believes that in time stress will be treated directly in relation to heart disease, much in the same way that high blood pressure is addressed today.
“Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors.”
Commenting on the research, Dr Ilze Bot, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, suggested that the results of the research are not hugely surprising, and reflected the high levels of stress becoming routine in society.
“Heavy workloads, job insecurity or living in poverty are circumstances that can result in chronically increased stress, which in turn can lead to chronic psychological disorders such as depression.”
Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, reflected that traditional methods of treating heart disease may be inadequate, and that medics within the healthcare system should evolve the treatment of patients in order to reflect the importance of stress.
“Exploring the brain’s management of stress and discovering why it increases the risk of heart disease will allow us to develop new ways of managing chronic psychological stress. This could lead to ensuring that patients who are at risk are routinely screened and that their stress is managed effectively.”