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Stress puts strain on heart

11th April 2007
UK scientists have proved that signals from the brain may have an important impact on the strain the heart is put under during times of stress.

Research from a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the learning, memory and emotion parts of the brain send signals which can affect the stability of the cardiac muscle in a subject with heart disease. This can have potentially fatal consequences because of disruption to the heart's rhythm.

It is well known that stress causes an increase in heart activity. This allows for maximum blood flow and enables the body to achieve the right state if required to take swift action.
It was previously understood that more primitive parts of the brain sent these signals.

Scientists from the University College London and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School examined 10 patients with particular heart conditions.

Researchers monitored electrical fluctuations while subjects performed a mildly stressful exercise. Results indicated that more complex parts of the brain, such as the cortex, tallied with the heart's responses. This created a cycle where parts of the brain responded to heart activity by intensifying signals for increased activity. This caused serious disruption of the heart muscle, which could potentially lead to fatalities in weak or ill patients.

Researcher Dr Marcus Gray indicated that they had discovered a close link between heart performance and brain activity, which suggested that parts of the brain "listen to" heartbeat activity.

Jeremy Pearson, of the the British Heart Foundation, said: "In future it may be possible to use the techniques in this study to identify in advance those patients whose hearts are more likely to have an adverse response to stress."

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