Stress Kills: Amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events

In a study [1] published in the Lancet, a pretty good medical journal (think UK's NEJM), which follow the outcomes of patients who underwent neuroimaging (i.e., PET, CT) found that increased "activation" (i.e., resting metabolic activity) in the amygdala was associated with an increased risk of adverse cardiac events (e.g., heart attacks, strokes, and severe heart-related chest pain).

How does stress tie into all of this? Well, stress is different for all of us but it does relate to past learning of negative experience, a process handled by the amygdala. The amygdala signals "fight" or "flight" responses whenever a stimulus has been tagged as "dangerous." Some of these dangers are hard-wired (e.g., loud noises, sudden movements, and unstable ground) and others are learned (remember Pavlov? [2]). 

We've all had an intuition that one can die from a broken heart. This is the first study to link regional brain activity, involved in processing emotional stress, to subsequent cardiac disease. 

  1. Tawakol, A., Ishai, A., Takx, R. A., Figueroa, A. L., Ali, A., Kaiser, Y., ... & Pitman, R. K. (2017). Relation between resting amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events: a longitudinal and cohort study. The Lancet, 389(10071), 834-845.

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