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Ital Heart J Suppl. 2002 Oct;3(10):1011-21.

[Psychological stress and sudden death].

[Article in Italian]

Author information

1
Dipartimento di Cardiologia Azienda Ospedaliera San Filippo Neri Via Martinotti, 20 00135 Roma. c.pignalberi@libero.it

Abstract

Recent studies provide relevant evidence that psychological stress significantly influences the pathogenesis of sudden cardiac death. Psychological stress expresses a situation of imbalance, derived from a real or perceived disparity between environmental demands and the individual's ability to cope with these demands. A situation of psychological stress may include different components: personality factors and character traits, anxiety and depression, social isolation and acute or chronic adverse life events. In particular, it has been documented that a sudden extremely hard event, such as an earthquake or a war strike, can significantly increase the incidence of sudden death. Nevertheless, each one of these factors, if not present, can balance a partially unfavorable situation; this overview suggests a multifactorial situation where almost all elements are present and in which the relative influence of each one varies according to the individual examined. Sudden death occurs when a transient disruption (such as acute myocardial ischemia, platelet activation or neuroendocrine variations), occurring in a patient with a diseased myocardium (such as one with a post-necrotic scar or hypertrophy), triggers a malignant arrhythmia. Psychological stress acts at both levels: by means of a "chronic" action it contributes to create the myocardial background, while by means of an acute action it can create the transient trigger precipitating sudden death. In the chronic action two possible mechanisms can be detected: the first is a direct interaction, which contributes to cause a hypertension status or to exacerbate coronary atherosclerosis consequent to endothelial dysfunction; the second one acts through adverse health behaviors, such as a poor diet, alcohol consumption or smoking. In case of acute psychological stress, the mechanisms involved are mainly the ability to trigger myocardial ischemia, to promote arrhythmogenesis, to stimulate platelet function, and to increase blood viscosity. Finally, some individuals have a sympathetic nervous system hyper-responsitivity, manifesting as exaggerated heart rate and blood pressure responses which result in accelerated atherosclerosis.

PMID:
12478827
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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