Can stress cause a stroke?


Stress can be defined as a state of emotional or physical tension caused by any event or difficult situation that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Everyone experiences stress to some degree, and the way we respond to stress affects our overall well-being.

Response to stress helps individuals to adjust to new situations. It can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. However, when stressors work without relief, it harms health.

What Happens in the Body During Stress?

According to Dr. Ryan Sundermann, MD, UnityPoint Health, when one experience stress, the brain triggers o release of chemicals to prepare the body for a threat. Cortisol and adrenaline are two primary chemicals released by the brain.


This hormone makes the body retain water and sodium, which help to keep blood pressure up (Read more about heart pressure here ). Additionally, it has several mechanisms for storing sugar and making it available for use to fuel the body.


This hormone, referred to as epinephrine, is a type of catecholamine. Adrenaline, and its similar chemicals, cause increased heart rate and blood pressure to pump blood to vital organs.

How does stroke affect the body?

There are two main types of stroke—the one that blocks arteries and those that cause arteries to bleed.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

It is caused by bleeding in the brain. It happens due to a weak spot in the wall of the vessel, causing an aneurysm (bulging of the vessel wall). Also, the vessels can be weakened by chronic, very high blood pressure and break from force. Once the vessel breaks, the blood leaks into the surrounding tissue. As a result, the brain doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Ischemic Stroke

It happens because of blocked arteries, which often occur from cholesterol buildup, called plaque. Plaques inside the vessel may be fragile when blood flows past, causing the plaque to lift. As a result, there may appear a clot that blocks blood flow and can lead to an ischemic stroke.

How Stress Affects Stroke Risk

A stroke happens because of entirely or partially blocked blood flow to the brain caused by clogged blood vessels. When the brain receives less oxygen-rich blood, its cells die, leading to speech difficulties, paralysis, memory issues, and muscle weakness. Some of these issues can be treated, while others may be permanent.

Chronic stress may result in arteries inflammation, leading to the narrowing of the vessels. It can cause a decrease in blood flow to the brain. Also, vessels may become weak and narrow due to increased blood pressure, causing the formation of blood clots or vessel bursts, triggering a stroke.

According to American Heart Association, even a slight increase in stress levels raises stroke risk. The greater the anxiety level, the higher the stroke risk. However, even modest increases raise stroke risk.

How to Lower Stress in Healthy Ways

Learning how to manage stress in productive and healthy ways is highly important. Some people aim to manage stress by overeating or drinking, but it only increases the chances of stroke. For example, eating junk food increases ‘bad’ cholesterol, which causes plaque accumulation in blood vessels. In addition, it leads to the narrowing of blood vessels and clots forming that can travel to the brain, causing a stroke.

Although it is impossible to eliminate stress and anxiety from life, some strategies can help to keep stress at bay:

  • Get plenty of exercise and rest. Practice meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and other activities that may help you to relax;
  • Eat only healthy food. Avoid carbonated drinks and junk food that increase ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body.
  • Getting enough sleep also helps the body to handle stress much better.
  • Stay connected with people who make you happy, provide emotional support, and calm you.
  • Find a hobby that makes you happy and fulfilled. Taking up a hobby is a great way to ease anxiety or stress. It gives you something enjoyable to focus on while taking your mind off anything negative you may be experiencing.
  • Avoid using mobile phones, TV, tablets, and other electronic devices before sleeping.

Stress is a normal human reaction to threatening or worrying situations. However, long-term stress causes health problems. Try to manage stress using simple strategies, finding new hobbies, or making lifestyle modifications. When you feel overwhelmed, see your healthcare provider to get help.

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