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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Mental Stress May Lead To Heart Disease

PITTSBURGH, January 11, 2006 — Most people believe that stress plays a role in heart disease. A study published in the latest issue of Psychophysiology finds that large rises in blood pressure during mental stress are associated with higher levels of activity in the regions of the brain associated with experiencing negative emotions and generating physiological responses in the rest of the body.

The research suggested that exaggerated activity in the cingulate cortex during mental stress may generate excessive rises in blood pressure that may place some individuals at a greater risk for heart disease.

Most of what is known about the brain and its links to stress and heart disease has been taken from research on animals. This study on humans used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI ), a non-invasive technique for imaging brain activity. While they were inside an MRI scanner, twenty healthy men and women performed a computer task to create mental stress that, consequently, increased their blood pressure. This allowed the researchers to correlate simultaneous changes in blood pressure and brain activity during stress.

Psychophysiology reports on new theoretical, empirical and methodological advances in: psychology and psychiatry, cognitive science, cognitive and affective neuroscience, social science, health science and behavioral medicine, and biomedical engineering. It is published on behalf of the Society for Psychophysiological Research.

Lead author Peter Gianaros, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has published on the physiology of stress in several scientific journals

Blackwell Publishing is the world’s leading society publisher, partnering with more than 600 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 750 journals annually and, to date, has published close to 6,000 text and reference books, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.

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