Certain Genes May Increase Risk Of Heart Attacks During Periods Of Stress, Study Shows

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A recent study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session reveals that individuals possessing certain genetic characteristics, as well as those experiencing anxiety or depression, face an increased risk of heart attacks during periods of social or political stress

High genetic stress sensitivity linked to acute coronary syndromes

Heart attacks are known to increase during certain times like holidays, but less understood are trends during major events like elections and sports. The study explored the genetic link to stress sensitivity and acute coronary syndromes (ACS), finding that those with high genetic stress sensitivity had a greater risk of ACS during stressful times, especially if they also had anxiety or depression.

The study led by Shady Abohashem, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, reveals that individuals genetically predisposed to stress face a significantly higher risk of heart attacks following stressful events. This discovery introduces a potential screening factor for identifying at-risk individuals and informs preventive measures and interventions.

Researchers analyzed data from 18,428 individuals participating in the Mass General Brigham Biobank research program. It focused on neuroticism polygenic risk scores (nPRS), indicating genetic predisposition to stress. Researchers examined nPRS scores among those who experienced acute coronary syndrome (ACS) events during periods of sociopolitical stress, compared to control periods and those who did not experience ACS. High-stress periods included days after Christmas, presidential elections, and major sporting events involving Boston-area teams.

Higher nPRS scores linked to increased risk of depression and anxiety

A study conducted over 20 years from 2000 to 2020 revealed that 1,890 participants experienced ACS. Individuals with above median nPRS (genetic risk scores) were 34% more likely to suffer from ACS during stressful periods compared to control periods. This correlation remained significant even after adjusting for conventional cardiovascular risk factors and health behaviors.

Higher nPRS scores were also associated with increased likelihood of anxiety and depression, which explained a significant portion of the link between nPRS score and stress-triggered ACS. Those with above median nPRS scores and comorbid anxiety or depression were 3.2 times more likely to experience ACS after stressful events.

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