Remembering stressful events may lead to later heart disease

Doing math in your head in a high-pressure environment raises your blood pressure, as does walking a quick and mindless quarter-mile. But new research shows that only the former includes an emotional component, making it a stressor that keeps on giving.

Testing whether ruminations about a previous task would induce the same heart racing that the original task did, researchers found that when an emotional component was present, not only could the thoughts of the task bring later rises in blood pressure, but they also delayed recovery from the original task.

Laura M. Glynn, Ph.D., of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues note that chronic stress induced rises in blood pressure have been associated with an increased risk of later heart disease, likely due to prolonged strain on the cardiovascular system. The study is published in the September/October issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

"It may be the case that exposure to emotional stressors is of greater potential harm to the cardiovascular system than exposure to non-emotional stressors -- even ones that provoke initial responses of the same magnitude," says Glynn.

The researchers conducted an initial study in which students were given four different tasks: two designed to induce an emotionally driven rise in blood pressure and two to induce a solely physical rise. Seventy-two college undergraduates participated in this study.

The first study showed that when asked to ruminate on the emotional tasks, participants' blood pressure rose to a similar level as when they were actually performing the task. In contrast, thinking back to the physical tasks did not raise subjects' blood pressure.

The second study included 20 students and assessed how they recovered from an emotional task when left alone compared with their blood pressure recovery when they had another task to distract them. That study showed that even when not directed to think about the emotional t

Contact: Andrew Porterfield
Center for the Advancement of Health

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