Measuring stress hormones may offer insight into heart health, study suggests

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People with high stress hormone levels have an increased risk for developing high blood pressure, and later having a heart attack or stroke, according to research published Sept. 13 in Hypertension

Researchers measured three stress hormones known as catecholamines that help regulate involuntary body functions, and cortisol, a steroid hormone released during stress. A total of 412 adults between the ages of 48 and 87 who had normal blood pressure at the start of the study were included. 

After seven years of follow-up, researchers found the risk of developing hypertension rose from 21 percent to 31 percent every time a person's four stress hormones doubled.

After 11 years of follow-up, there was a 90 percent increased risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke each time cortisol levels doubled. Researchers did not observe a link between the other stress hormones and increased risk for heart problems. 

While previous studies have identified a link between daily stress exposure and increased risk for heart disease, most have focused on participants who already had high blood pressure. 

"The next key research question is whether and in which populations increased testing of stress hormones could be helpful," said Dr. Kosuke Inoue, study author and an assistant professor of social epidemiology at Kyoto University in Japan. "Currently, these hormones are measured only when hypertension with an underlying cause or other related diseases are suspected. However, if additional screening could help prevent hypertension and cardiovascular events, we may want to measure these hormone levels more frequently."

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