Effects of mental stress on cardiovascular and endocrine response in Air Force Academy cadets.

OBJECTIVES: Pilots are exposed to the "stress of flight" and the chronically activated stress response may play an important role in circulatory system disease progression. We studied the effect of an experimental mental stress on cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity, in Air Force Academy cadets, before and after one month intensive course.

DESIGN: Nine cadets were submitted to a psychometric evaluation before Stroop test (ST), including Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, State and Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI X1 and X2 form) and Reaction Scheme Test. After ST, subjects completed a STAI X1 form. Heart rate (HR), systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP and DBP) were monitored and serum prolactin (PRL), growth hormone (GH), adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and cortisol levels were determined, during ST. The protocol was repeated at the end of the course.

RESULTS: No significant differences were evident in PRL, GH and ACTH levels. Cortisol concentrations were significantly higher before the course. ST did not modify hormone secretion. ST induced a significant and reproducible elevation of HR and SBP. Basal HR, SBP and DBP values were significantly elevated after the course. Two subjects presented a particular psychometric profile, a different cardiovascular response to ST and did not pass the course.

CONCLUSIONS: acute mental stress significantly activated cardiovascular response without modifying endocrine responses, in relation to the psychological profiles. A significant increase of cardiovascular parameters was present after the course, with enhanced dichotomy between the endocrine and sympathetic system, suggesting a careful evaluation and follow-up for circulatory system diseases in cadets.