Mental Stress Reduces Blood Flow to Heart in Patients with Gene Variation

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

University of Florida researchers have identified a gene variation in heart disease patients who appear especially vulnerable to the physical effects of mental stress — to the point where blood flow to the heart is greatly reduced. UF researchers studied 148 patients with coronary artery disease who were on average about 65 years old. Participants were asked to perform a public speaking test designed to induce stress. Images were taken of blood flow to the heart at rest and during the speech task. Blood samples also were collected and analyzed for five common gene variations.

  • Those with the gene variation are three times more likely to experience dangerous decreases in blood flow to the heart — a condition doctors call ischemia — than heart disease patients without it. Ischemia increases the chance these patients will suffer a heart attack, heart rhythm abnormalities or sudden death.
  • About a fourth of the patients experienced mental stress-induced reduced blood flow to the heart, and about two-thirds of them harbored a particular variation of the adrenergic beta-1 receptor genotype that was associated with a three-fold increased risk of this phenomenon. This receptor typically helps the body respond to stress by regulating blood pressure and heart rate, but a common variability in its gene may make certain patients more vulnerable to the effects of psychological stress.

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