, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 193-218

Hemodynamic responses during psychological stress: Implications for studying disease processes

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Investigation of the physiological correlates of psychological stress is of interest in relation to the putative impact of stress in the etiology of cardiovascular disease. Although the assessment of blood pressure and heart rate responses to psychological stress has been very informative, the addition of cardiac output measurement has added a further dimension to this research field. In recent studies, a more complete hemodynamic picture of the stress response has been documented in terms of cardiac output and systemic vascular resistance components of blood pressure changes. Different stressors have been shown to produce similar blood pressure increases due to quite different hemodynamic mechanisms. Furthermore, when faced with the same stressor, different individuals may exhibit pressor responses that are very different hemodynamically. There is growing evidence that these hemodynamic response patterns to psychological stress are stable individual traits. Response stability is a prerequisite for considering how stress-related hemodynamic changes may be implicated in the pathophysiology of cardiovascular diseases. Observations that hemodynamic response patterns in individuals at higher risk for the development of hypertension differ from those of lower risk individuals show that specific patterns of hemodynamic response are associated with disease processes, although it is as yet unclear whether they represent markers or mechanisms. Overall, hemodynamic studies appear to be helping to refine our understanding of how stress can impact cardiovascular disease processes.

Preparation of this article was supported by NIH Grants HL49427. HL53724, and HL4I781.