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Posted: Wednesday, 25 June 2014 7:07AM

Study may show why stress can lead to heart attacks

A study at Harvard Medical School shows why stress can lead to heart attacks.  The research points to a link to an overproduction of white blood cells due to stress. 

These white blood cells, while important to fighting infection, can stick to artery walls. 

Dr. Frank Smart with the LSU School of medicine explains it's more than just the absolute number, it's how active those white blood cells are.

"Everybody's heard stories that Uncle Bob had a stress test on Thursday, the doctor said everything was fine, and he dropped dead on Sunday," the doctor said.  "We are able to find plaque and blockages that are 75 percent or greater with stress testing, but heart attacks can occur on blockages that are 50 to 60 percent."

Dr. Smart said stress increased not only the number, but activity of these cells and poses the heart attack risk. 

"This has been what we call the vulnerable plaque versus a stable plaque,"  noted Dr. Smart.
He points out that vulnerable plaques are the ones that cause heart attacks, and that's because they have more inflammation of white blood cells in them.

He says we can help ourselves by trying to reduce the stress. 

"Know first off that stress is a risk and try to manage it as appropriately as possible,"  Dr., Smart said.  "You should be diligent about other risk factors like your cholesterol, cigarette use, family history and things like that."

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