ACC.16: PET/CT study links stress to heightened risk of cardiovascular disease

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 - stressed man holding head

Researchers have used PET/CT imaging to link stress-related amygdala activation in the brain with arterial inflammation and an increased risk of eventual cardiovascular disease events, according to results of a study presented today at ACC.16 in Chicago.

The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, used images from 293 patients sourced from their facility’s PET imaging database who underwent imaging for cancer screening between 2005 and 2008. They tested for evidence of amygdala activity in the brain, a known animal stress model, instructing mutually blinded teams of radiologists and cardiologists to evaluate 18F-FDG PET/CT images and adjudicate any cardiovascular disease events.     

Their results showed amygdala activity positively correlated with arterial inflammation and, importantly, was associated with a greater risk of negative health events resulting from cardiovascular disease, with risk of cardiovascular events fourteen times greater at each incremental increase in stress activity within the brain.

“We found that the amygdala measures predicted cardiovascular disease rather robustly” said study co-author Ahmed Tawakol, MD, in a press briefing. 

“Our study illuminates, for the first time, a relationship between activation of neural tissues—those associated with fear and stress—and subsequent heart disease events.”

Learn more about the study and the presentation at ACC.16 here.