Understanding heart attack and stress
Feeling stressed all the time could raise your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a new study.
The research, which is published in The Lancet, and has received widespread media coverage, claims to show for the first time how stress could be linked to heart and circulatory disease in humans.
Constant stress has been linked to higher activity in an area of the brain linked to processing emotions, and an increased likelihood of developing heart and circulatory disease.¹
What is heart attack
Heart attack, also known as Myocardial infarction, is a function of reduced blood flow to the heart caused by factors such as blood clots blocking the arteries. This leads to death of some heart muscles due to reduced distribution of oxygen within the heart muscles.
What is stress
Stress is a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter challenges in life. When you’re under stress, your body reacts by releasing hormones that produce the “fight-or-flight” response. Your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure go up, your muscles tense, and you sweat more.²
The link: can stress cause heart attack?
The role of social and psychological factors in chronic disease specifically coronary heart disease has received widespread attention from medical and social professionals.³
It has been identified that stress is a risk factor for an increased blood pressure due to the effects of stress hormones on blood vessels(constriction). Increased blood pressure results in complications like coronary artery disease which is a cause for heart attack.
With this, unhealthy social and psychological lifestyles can increase the chances of heart attack most especially in the older generation.
More on heart attack: symptoms and causes
Symptoms of heart attack
Although the symptoms of heart attack may vary from individual to individual, generally symptoms observed across all individuals include chest pain being the major. This pain usually lasts for few minutes or it goes away and comes back.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
- Feeling weak and lightheaded or faint
- Pain or discomfort radiating from the jaw, neck down to the back
- Shortness of breath accompanied by chest discomfort
Causes of heart attack
Coronary artery disease (CAD) has been stated to be the major cause of heart attack. Another common cause is a severe spasm, or sudden contraction, of a coronary artery that can stop blood flow to the heart muscle.⁴
Coronary artery disease seems to have claimed more lives most importantly in the United Kingdom than any other condition and research shows that death of people under the age of 65 has it main cause by coronary heart disease.⁵
Between 1999 and 2010, there has been a decrease in the percentage of adults with at least one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease from 57.8% in 1999- 2000 to 46.5% in 2009- 2010. The decrease in trend was mostly found among men and women within the age bracket of 40-59, and 60 and above.⁶
More on stress: symptoms, causes and management
Symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress are experienced based on the triggers. Physical stress usually is accompanied by symptoms like headache, nausea diarrhoea, insomnia, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and weakness, while emotional stress comes with symptoms like anger, depression, low self-esteem, low energy, loss of interest, loneliness among others
Causes of stress
The causes of stress vary from person to person as what one person sees as stress is no stress for another. It can arise as a result of internal or external factors, be it environment, type of job, people around us or even memories.
How to manage stress
Stress is an inevitable part of our life, hence efforts should be made on balancing our daily lives with positive activities that help us with healthy living.
Stress management can be achieved through engaging in pleasurable activities, social activities, healthy communication, aerobic and anaerobic physical activities, enough sleep, maintaining good hygiene and likewise good diet.⁷
Stress has been recognised to be a risk factor for heart attack. With stress, the heart works more than necessary and hence increasing the chances of a heart attack.
- How stress can lead to heart attacks and stroke. Heart magazine https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/behind-the-headlines/stress-and-heart-disease
- National centre for complementary and integrative health: stress; https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/stress
- House JS. Occupational stress and coronary heart disease: A review and theoretical integration. Journal of health and social behavior. 1974 Mar 1:12-27.
- Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm
- Common Data Set 1992. London: Department of Health/OPCS, 1994.
- Cheryl D. Fryar, M.S.P.H.; Te-Ching Chen, Ph.D.; and Xianfen Li, M.S: Prevalence of Uncontrolled Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: United States, 1999–2010. NCHS Data Brief ■ No. 103 ■ August 2012
- Esch T, Stefano GB. The neurobiology of stress management. Neuroendocrinology letters. 2010 Jan 1;31(1):19-39.