Lay people often mention stress as one of the most important risk factors for stroke. Stress might trigger a cerebrovascular event directly or could be associated with higher levels of blood pressure or an unfavorable lifestyle. To examine these possibilities, we analyzed the association between self-reported stress frequency and intensity and risk of stroke.
Data from the second examination, 1981 to 1983, of participants in the Copenhagen City Heart Study were analyzed with Cox regression after a mean of 13 years of follow-up. A total of 5604 men and 6970 women were included, and 929 first-ever strokes occurred, of which 207 (22%) were fatal within 28 days after onset of symptoms. The stress frequency categories were never/hardly ever, monthly, weekly, or daily. The stress intensity categories were never/hardly ever, light, moderate, or high.
Subjects with high stress intensity had almost a doubled risk of fatal stroke compared with subjects who were not stressed (relative risk [RR], 1.89; 95% CI, 1.11 to 3.21). Weekly stress was associated with an RR of 1.49 (95% CI, 1.00 to 2.23). There was no significant effect of stress in analyses of nonfatal strokes. Subjects who reported to be stressed often were more likely to have an adverse risk factor profile.
Self-reported high stress intensity and weekly stress were associated with a higher risk of fatal stroke compared with no stress. However, there were no significant trends, and the present data do not provide strong evidence that self-reported stress is an independent risk factor for stroke.