Categories: Cardiology

Stress-Related Heart Attacks: All You Need to Know

“Can stress cause a heart attack?” This is one of the most common questions that people ask. A heart attack was hitherto thought to be a consequence of certain systemic diseases as well as poor lifestyle habits. Contrary to common belief, accumulating evidence now suggests that stress increases the incidence of cardiovascular morbidity and even mortality by precipitating events like a heart attack. There is more than one way in which stress can affect the health of your heart. The article below is all about the issues related to stress and its relation with the heart.

Many individuals at some point during their lives are exposed to psychological trauma or certain stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, a diagnosis of life-threatening illness, natural disasters or violence. These are the candidates who are at risk for a stress-related heart attack, especially those who develop a deep impact as a result of their trauma.

In some instances, a stress-related heart attack can be seen in those who are involved in a stressful profession. So the answer to your question, ‘Can stress give you a heart attack?’ is ‘yes, it can’. To avoid a heart attack due to stress, you must figure out what causes such a health catastrophe. Once you understand the factors included in the undesirable event, you can prevent it from happening.

How does a Stressful profession cause a heart attack?

Individuals who are in stressful professions experience stress daily. Over a while, repeated, persistent stress activates the immune system and contributes to inflammation. This inflammation now sets the stage for atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to nourish all parts of our body including the heart. Therefore, when these arteries get hardened, they also get narrowed and limit the blood flow to the heart increasing the chances of a heart attack, or a stroke. It must be emphasized here that there are also genetic factors and familial clustering that are involved, which contribute to the overall effect of stress and its consequences on the heart.

All About Stress:

We need to understand that stress is a part and parcel of life. However, when there is severe stress, then, unless it is managed appropriately, it can have disastrous consequences. Again, stress is classified based on diagnostic criteria into 3 types:

  1. Acute Stress Reaction                                                        
  2. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)                      
  3. Adjustment disorder

The consequences of stress depend on the impact and duration of stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often had the worst consequence. However, if you leave it unmanaged, stress might lead to psychological, emotional, and physical problems, which includes:

If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to consult with your doctor immediately, before the symptoms progress into something with disastrous consequences.

Can smoking and consuming too much alcohol during stress damage the heart?

The answer is a resounding yes. In some individuals, chronic stress leads to excessive smoking and consumption of excess alcohol, since these are perceived as a way to escape the stress. This, in turn, increases their blood pressure, consequently damaging the artery walls. This accelerates the process of atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries which then narrows the blood vessels supplying the heart and this eventually leads to a heart attack. It must be mentioned here that the consumption of excess alcohol can also cause heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. Hence, you have to make some changes in your lifestyle habits to prevent the occurrence of a heart attack caused by stress.

Why is stress deadly?

People react differently to stress, and for some, it can bring fatal consequences while others might not be affected by it. Each person reacts to stress differently. What kind of health problems you might face and how well you can cope with it also varies. Remember that when stress is excessive, it may contribute to high blood pressure or hypertension, asthma, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome, along with other health disorders, and not just a stress-induced heart attack.

Stress and Heart Attack:

Numerous research programs have been conducted worldwide to figure out how stress contributes to heart diseases. It has been found that the emergence of a heart attack from stress and anxiety is very common, especially among the younger population, mainly because of the overwhelming lifestyle they lead these days. Stress might often affect a person’s behaviour and lead to the emergence of several factors that increase the risk of heart diseases.

Here are the factors that contribute fairly to the occurrence of heart diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Overeating and Obesity

Can you get a heart attack from stress?

A stress-induced heart attack is very common these days, and the best way to deal with it is to follow a healthy lifestyle and stop compromising on your health. Here are some of the most common stressors that affect people, irrespective of the stage of their life:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Relationship issues
  • Work stress and overload
  • Unemployment
  • Pregnancy
  • Financial concerns
  • Daily commuting and other hardships
  • Legal problems

Body’s Response to Stress:

Whenever your body or mind experiences stress, they might respond in the following ways:

  • Headache
  • Back strain
  • Stomach pains
  • Fall in energy levels
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness

It’s important to note that the emergence of stressful situations might lead to the occurrence of a chain of events. During stress, your bodies release ‘adrenaline’, which temporarily speeds up your breathing and heart rate and leads the blood pressure to rise.

How to avoid stress?

Here are some of the habits that can prevent stress from invading your health and mind:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Cultivate friendships and avoid loneliness
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • A healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Quit smoking
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Seeking counselling and psychiatric help for stress and anxiety

We believe you have got your answer to the question, “Does stress cause heart attacks?” Now, all you need to do is follow a healthy lifestyle and undergo regular check-ups to prevent such problems from emerging.

Dr. Bagirath Raghuraman, Senior Consultant – Cardiology – Adult, Heart Transplant, Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Bommasandra

Narayana Health

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