Stress Favours Plaque Formation Possibly Leading to Heart Attacks

Stress could increase one’s risk to having heart attacks by having increased white blood cell counts, as put forward by a new study. During extremely stressful situations, the white blood cell counts reach new peaks, which account for plaque formation in blood vessels blocking normal blood flow, possibly leading to heart attacks and strokes.

stressed woman

Our modern world is being plagued with a number of diseases and ailments undermining societies all across the globe. While diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular problems and obesity are on the increase, psychological disorders and ailments are not lagging behind either, of the most potent of them being stress. Stress is so harmful that it affects both the mental and physical well-being of the person affected. It affects the whole life of the person. Stress often opens the door to other ills. What researchers had not yet shown, though, was how does excessive stress impacts on the body. A new study has attempted to answer to these research questions. The results of the study showed how stress can lead to increased risks of experiencing heart attacks leading to death.

To test their hypotheses, the authors of the study evaluated the health of a group of medical employees who work under extremely stressful conditions. The scientists set out to study the correlation, if any, between stress levels of the subjects and their white blood cell counts. This was evaluated after one week’s work of the medical employees. The relation between the two variables was as folows: the white blood cell counts were higher during worktime than when the employees were off duty. While it might sound like something beneficial for the body to have a great amount of white blood cells – the latter form an important part of the immune system, fighting foreign antigens, thus protecting the body from viral and bacterial invasions – it must be noted that too much of anything, even of good things, can be detrimental to the health. Too many white blood cells, or white blood cells in the wrong places, are worrying signs. Having an excessive amount of white blood cells confers onto the person the risk of accummulating plaque in the blood vessels that could create the condition called atherosclerosis, whereby blood pathways are blocked with excess blood constituents.

The researchers reproduced their results on mice in order to study the phenomenon relating white blood cells to stress in a more in-depth manner. Mice were put under exceedingly stressful conditions, like isolation and cage tilting. Their white blood cell counts greatly increased as a result. The increased presence of white blood cells in their blood accounted for the development of plaque formation in their arteries. Plaque inflammation occurred consequently, whereby enzymes were released by the cells to soften the connective tissue and to dissolve away the plaque to clear out the blood vessels to allow for the smooth flow of blood.

That is what could ultimately lead to myocardial infarction – in simple terms, heart attack – and stroke.

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