According to research, both short- and long-term emotional stress can increase your risk of a stroke. However, there are preventive steps that may help reduce this risk.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted. These interruptions can be caused by a blood clot or a burst blood vessel. Symptoms include sudden muscle weakness, confusion, visual changes, and difficulty speaking.

Stroke is a leading cause of disability and death worldwide, and a variety of issues can increase your risk of a stroke. For example, high cholesterol as well as unmanaged high blood pressure both raise the risk of blood clots and blockages in the arteries. In turn, these conditions can increase your chance of having a stroke.

But other issues can be connected to an increased risk of stroke, too. Stress is one of those risk factors.

Research shows that emotional stress can increase your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events. Both long-term (chronic) stress and short-term stress may have an effect.

This article will take a closer look at the connection between stroke and stress and what can be done to help prevent a stroke.

Yes, according to research, there is a relationship between stress and stroke.

According to a large 2022 study with more than 26,000 participants, self-reported psychosocial stress within the previous 12 months was associated with an increased risk of both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. This applied equally to stress that was experienced at work, at home, or as a result of financial worries.

The researchers involved in this study also determined that the link between stroke and stress wasn’t tied to any specific socioeconomic status, occupation, or educational level. In other words, the association between stress and stroke was equal regardless of the type of job the study participants had, how much they earned, or how educated they were.

In addition, the researchers found that the link between stroke and stress may, in some cases, be independent of heart health risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, or an unhealthy diet.

Stress, stroke, and lifestyle factors

On the other hand, a smaller 2023 study, determined that certain lifestyle factors may be associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke. This type of stroke is caused by a blood clot or fatty buildup in the blood vessel. These factors included:

  1. depression
  2. being married
  3. a lower educational level
  4. perceived stress

What’s more, that same study found that pre-stroke depression and perceived stress were strongly connected to the stroke’s severity.

Stress and cardiovascular health

According to a 2016 study, both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term or ongoing) emotional stress may increase the risk of stroke.

According to this research, stress affects the body’s cardiovascular health and can lead to changes in blood pressure and the blood’s clotting ability. These factors can increase the risk of stroke.

Stress can affect your cardiovascular health in several ways. For instance, it can lead to the constriction (narrowing) of the arteries, which can cause an increase in blood pressure.

Stress can also boost your blood’s clotting ability. This can increase the risk of clot formation, which can lead to blood vessel obstruction, or the rupture of preexisting plaque, which can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke.

Additionally, chronic stress can affect the body in several ways. These effects may include:

Stress and lifestyle choices

People who have a high levels of chronic stress also tend to make fewer healthy lifestyle choices. For instance, they may:

All of these factors can increase your risk of stroke, too. This makes stress a dual problem when it comes to stroke risk.

There are two main types of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke: An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to a part of the brain. A clot is often caused when fatty buildup, or plaque, in the blood vessels breaks off and clogs a blood vessel.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel partially or fully ruptures or breaks. Blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted because the blood spills out into surrounding tissue.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is sometimes called a ministroke or a warning stroke. It’s different from the two main types of stroke because blood flow to the brain is only temporarily blocked or interrupted, typically for less than 5 minutes. Symptoms of this type of stroke may resolve before you get to a doctor.

Although the symptoms of a ministroke don’t last long, they are often an early sign of a more serious stroke. In fact, approximately 10% to 15% of people who have a TIA go on to have a stroke within 3 months. Getting a diagnosis and treatment for a TIA can help reduce the risk of a major stroke.

A 2014 study found that high levels of stress increased the risk of an “incident stroke” or a transient ischemic stroke. However, most other research hasn’t made a direct link between stress and a specific type of stroke.

A TIA can be a precursor to a larger, more severe stroke. Some people may confuse the symptoms of a TIA with an anxiety attack, so this early sign could be missed.

Symptoms of a stroke, including a TIA, include:

  • sudden confusion
  • trouble speaking, slurred speech
  • visual changes
  • loss of balance
  • dizziness
  • loss of coordination
  • numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs
  • facial drooping
  • severe headache without a clear cause

Stress can cause similar issues. For example, people who are experiencing a great deal of stress may have difficulty thinking or clearly expressing their thoughts. They may also feel dizzy or faint from time to time.

However, the key difference between the symptoms of a TIA and those of stress is in the suddenness of the symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms of a TIA develop quickly and are intense right away. Symptoms of stress usually build gradually.

Regardless of the severity of the symptoms, if you experience confusion, difficulty talking, dizziness, or numbness, it’s important to get medical attention.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you need to seek emergency medical attention by contacting 911 or your local emergency services. Timely diagnosis and treatment may help prevent damage to your brain.

To diagnose a stroke, doctors will likely use an imaging test to see a clot, hemorrhage, or other issue. A CT scan or MRI can detect bleeding in the brain, a blockage, or a tumor.

Once a diagnosis is made, treatment begins right away. Treatment that begins within a short period of time can help reduce the lasting effects of a stroke.

Treatment options include medication to break up the clot or a procedure to remove it. If the stroke is caused by a hemorrhage, another procedure can close the rupture and restore blood flow.

Reducing your stress levels may help lower the risk of a stroke. Consider these stress reduction techniques:

  • Breathe: Taking deep, slow breaths when you’re feeling stressed may help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
  • Listen to soothing music: Practice a few minutes of “escape” with music that calms you or puts you in a relaxed mood.
  • Try calming apps: Smartphone apps can help you practice calming techniques to reduce stress or anxiety.
  • Get up and move: A few minutes of exercise can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

In addition to these in-the-moment stress reduction techniques, the following preventive steps can go a long way to reducing your risk of stress-related stroke:

  • Get plenty of rest: Too little sleep can increase stress hormones and inflammation, but getting enough sleep can reduce the effect of stress on your body.
  • Make healthy eating a priority: When you feel stressed, you may be less likely to make ideal food choices, but eating nutritious, balanced meals may help reduce the effects of stress.
  • Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms: Try not to manage your stress with smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Instead, try to replace these behaviors with healthier ones, like taking a walk, talking with a friend, listening to your favorite music, or indulging in a favorite hobby.
  • Seek mental health assistance: If stress and anxiety are overwhelming your daily life, it may be a good idea to talk with a mental health professional. They can teach you coping mechanisms to help you manage stress in a healthy way.

Stress can have many negative effects on your body. One of those effects is an increased risk of stroke.

However, you can take preventive steps in the moment and over the long term to reduce the risk of a stroke. This includes learning how to find calm amid high stress moments and practicing healthy habits, like regular exercise and getting plenty of sleep.