BOSTON (CBS) — Stress and heart attacks have long been linked, but researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital may now know exactly why.

Published in the Journal Lancet, Mass General researchers found a link for the first time between the area in the brain that processes stress and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Doctor Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist at MGH and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who took part in the study, said activity in the amygdala could provide answers.

“We found that the amount of activity in that tissue of the brain actually very nicely predicted the risk of subsequent heart attack and stroke, and also gave us some information about the timing of those events,” Tawakol told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker.

Researchers tracked individuals for three to five years, finding those in the study who developed heart disease and had higher activity in the amygdala were more likely to have a future cardiac event. The study also saw increased bone marrow activity and arterial inflammation in those people, Tawakol said.

With more study, the results could lead to new treatments for stress-related cardiovascular issues. The findings should, Tawakol said, encourage doctors to speak to patients about the impacts of stress.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker reports

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