Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity and Health: Recent Questions and Future Directions



Whittaker AC, Ginty A, Hughes BM, Steptoe A & Lovallo WR (2021) Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity and Health: Recent Questions and Future Directions. Psychosomatic Medicine, 83 (7), pp. 756-766.

Objective High cardiovascular reactions to psychological stress are associated with the development of hypertension, systemic atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. However, it has become apparent that low biological stress reactivity also may have serious consequences for health, although less is known about the mechanisms of this. The objective of this narrative review and opinion paper is to summarise and consider where we are now in terms of the usefulness of the reactivity hypothesis and reactivity research, given that both ends of the reactivity spectrum appear to be associated with poor health, and to address some of the key criticisms and future challenges for the research area. Methods This review is authored by the members of a panel discussion held at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting 2019 which included questions such as: How do we measure high and low reactivity? Can high reactivity ever indicate better health? Does low or blunted reactivity simply reflect less effort on task challenges? Where does low reactivity originate from, and what is a low reactor? Results Cardiovascular (and cortisol) stress reactivity are used as a model to: demonstrate an increased understanding of the different individual pathways from stress responses to health/disease and show the challenges of how to understand and best use the reconstruction of a long-standing reactivity hypothesis given recent data. Conclusions This discussion elucidates the gaps in knowledge and key research issues that still remain to be addressed in this field, and that systematic reviews and meta-analyses continue to be required.

cardiovascular reactivity; cortisol; cardiovascular disease; stress;

Psychosomatic Medicine: Volume 83, Issue 7

Publication date30/09/2021
Publication date online07/07/2021
Date accepted by journal28/05/2021

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Professor Anna Whittaker
Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Sport