How Stress Affects Your Heart

Stress can affect your heart in more ways than you know. Read on to arm yourself with facts and beat stress for a happy, healthy heart. Amit (name changed) is a manager in a multinational bank in an Indian metro.

He was hospitalised last week when he suffered a major heart attack. People close to him couldn’t help commenting that Amit was the last person they thought would land up with a heart attack.

Affects Heart Attack
Stress Affects your Heart

He did not fit the profile of a typical “heart attack” patient. He was only 41, slim, did not smoke and hardly ever fell ill. He had, in fact, undergone an executive health check-up a year ago and was given a clean chit by the doctor. When probed further, Amit revealed that he was going through a lot of stress lately. He had joined this new job only a year back. He put in 15-16 hours a day, the deadlines were killling and had no time for his family or leisure. So did stress give Amit his heart attack? The answer is, probably yes. 

Stress is one of the most common complaints one hears from patients. More and more evidence suggests a relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and environmental and psychosocial factors. These factors include job stress, relationship problems, social isolation as well as personality traits. Experts will tell you that developing an optimistic attitude and resilience is the way to beat stress. Of 999 people, men and women ages 65 to 85, researchers in the Netherlands found that optimistic participants had lower rates of heart disease and were 77% less likely to die of cardiovascular diseases.

How stress works:

It is not known how exactly stress increases the risk of heart disease. Whether stress by itself is an independent risk factor or whether stress affects other risk factors and behaviours is yet to be ascertained.

Smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and family history are known risk factors for coronary heart disease. But stress plays a role too.

Studies have shown that long-term stress triggers an unhealthy lifestyle. Chronic stress can result in unhealthy habits such as smoking, being sedentary, overusing alcohol and eating poorly or overeating. These, in turn, increase chances of developing hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. So, over time, elevated levels of stress can cause you to acquire risk factors that lead to heart disease. Chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can be detrimental for the heart. Acute stress can cause a sudden increase in the blood pressure, plaque rupture or formation of blood clots, leading to a heart attack.

Know your body:

When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signals that something is wrong. Don’t ignore these physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural warning signs. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and don’t give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems. Remember, unlike other risk factors for heart disease, it is not possible to measure stress in a precise way.

The good news is that stress doesn’t arise from a particular incident or circumstance, but from our perception of and reaction to it. Understand that it’s not just stress but your response to it that determines how your health will be affected. Some people react to stress with feelings of anger, guilt, fear, hostility and anxiety that could make things worse. Others may face life’s challenges with greater ease. Be in control of a situation so you know what triggers your stress, and work to abate the feelings so the stress is not prolonged.

Take out time to unwind in whatever way that works for you-go for a walk, listen to music, catch up with friends, meditate. Managing stress makes sense for your overall health. -msn