Brain-heart connections in stress and cardiovascular disease: Implications for the cardiac patient

Atherosclerosis. 2021 Jul;328:74-82. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2021.05.020. Epub 2021 May 30.


The influence of psychological stress on the physiology of the cardiovascular system, and on the etiology and outcomes of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been the object of intense investigation. As a whole, current knowledge points to a "brain-heart axis" that is especially important in individuals with pre-existing CVD. The use of acute psychological stress provocation in the laboratory has been useful to clarify the effects of psychological stress on cardiovascular physiology, immune function, vascular reactivity, myocardial ischemia, neurobiology and cardiovascular outcomes. An emerging paradigm is that dynamic perturbations of physiological and molecular pathways during stress or negative emotions are important in influencing cardiovascular outcomes, and that some patient subgroups, such as women, patients with an early-onset myocardial infarction, and patients with adverse psychosocial exposures, may be at especially high risk for these effects. This review summarizes recent knowledge on mind-body connections in CVD among cardiac patients and highlights important pathways of risk which could become the object of future intervention efforts. As a whole, this research suggests that an integrated study of mind and body is necessary to fully understand the determinants and consequences of CVD.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Inflammation; Myocardial ischemia; Prognosis; Psychological stress; Vascular function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Cardiovascular System*
  • Female
  • Heart
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Ischemia*
  • Stress, Psychological