Stress And Its Role In Strokes

Stress hormones increase blood pressure, and long-term stress can lead to high blood pressure, the leading cause of stroke. These hormones are also known to lead to diabetes, atherosclerosis, and heart disease – all of which are stroke risk factors.


I could suggest that stress is, primarily, an adult phenomenon. But I won’t. There are many who would suggest that stress hormones are not limited to adults. I’m one of them. Cortisol, the stress hormone can occur at any age.


Adrenaline, the so-called “fight or flight” hormone, increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugar levels (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues


Our first exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones is as a fetus.  The birthing process is also stressful to the infant as well as the mother. As an infant, we learn to recognize those around us, we learn to reach, to roll over and eventually to sit, crawl, walk, and so forth. Throughout these stages, there are many instances of stress. However, these types of stress are entirely normal and are expected as part of growing up.


Different types of stress are encountered when playing with other children. When we reach the age where we have to spend time away from home (school) stress levels can raise dramatically.



One of the major reasons children are highly stressed is because they encounter bullying in school. How often have you heard that childhood bullying “is a rite of passage” or that it “builds character” or “it’s just part of growing up?”


These ideas are totally misguided, as many of our social ills (homelessness, drug abuse, criminal behaviors, etc.) can be directly traced to childhood bullying.   Furthermore, I would suggest that those who have suffered the trauma of bullying have lifelong difficulties in their professions, relationships, friendships, and other areas of their lives.


According to the dictionary, to bully is “to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” Bullies include classmates, workmates, and even familial members. Of course, when familial members are the bullies, it becomes child abuse.


The stress victims of bullying and child abuse experience can cause changes in brain chemistry, according to recent research:

“…bullying is more than just an unfortunate part of growing up. It can cause long-term changes to the brain that leads to cognitive and  emotional deficits as serious as the harm done by child abuse.”


When children experience bullying, it’s important to be as reactive after the fact and, of course, as proactive as possible to prevent future occurrences.


“When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.”


Parents, school staff, and other adults in the community can help kids prevent bullying by talking about it, building a safe school environment, and creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy.

Since it has already been established that long-term exposure of stress hormones is a contributing factor of strokes, I would suggest that childhood bullying can, in some instances, set the conditions where strokes are highly likely.

Children who have been bullied may also experience bullying as adults.


Childhood bullies may very well grow into adult bullies. They find themselves in a position of power over their victims. I’ve often seen adult bullies who are in supervisory positions at work. The power differential often serves to fuel their bullying behavior because they may feel that their weaker subordinates are truly powerless to do anything.


One question we, who have been bullied, must ask, “Is my success (or lack thereof) a result of being bullied as a child?” The second question should be, “What can I do to overcome what has happened to me?”

I will leave that question unanswered, for the time being, as it the subject of a future posting.

I hope you have found this post useful!  Please leave comments!

All the best,


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