How can emotional stress cause cardiac arrest?

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How can emotional stress cause cardiac arrhythmia, which can result in cardiac arrest? That’s what I want to unravel. With this I hope to aid in the prevention of cardiac arrest.

Every 30 minutes someone in the Netherlands has a cardiac arrest. We think that emotional stress can elicit dangerous arrhythmias that can result in acute cardiac arrest. If we have a better understanding of how this works, we can do something about it.

Measuring the consequence for heart and brain

How am I going to do this? We are going to expose healthy volunteers to acute stress. They receive a small electric shock to the foot, while they are in an MRI scanner. We visualize the brain and make an ECG at the same time. In that way we can see whether this stressor disrupts the heart rhythm and whether this is a result of changes in amygdala activity. This is the area in the brain that processes stressful stimuli.

Stress-induced changes

Two important substances regulate the function of the amygdala. I will investigate how the concentration of these substances changes during our experiment. In addition we will monitor changes in blood pressure and stress hormones.

Preventing stress

If we can demonstrate how stress disrupts the heart rhythm, we can help people to prevent arrhythmia. For example we can treat patients with anxiety disorders, who respond very strongly to stress. Additionally, we can better advise patients with a predisposition for cardiac arrhythmia how to avoid and/or deal with stressful situations.


This research is a joint project of the departments Cardiology, Radiology and Psychiatry.


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