Your Bodys Response To Stress May Be:
- Wreak havoc on your sleep
- Make you feel cranky, forgetful or out of control
A stressful situation sets off a chain of events. Your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These reactions prepare you to deal with the situation the fight or flight response.
What Mental Health Disorders Are Related To Heart Disease
Mood Disorders: People living with mood disorders, such as major depression or bipolar disorder, find that their mood affects both psychological and mental well-being nearly every day for most of the day.
Anxiety Disorders: People respond to certain objects or situations with fear, dread, or terror. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorders, and phobias.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder : People can experience PTSD after undergoing a traumatic life experience, such as war, natural disaster, or any other serious incident.
Chronic Stress: People are in a state of uncomfortable emotional stressaccompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological, and behavioral changesthat is constant and persists over an extended period of time.
*There may be other behavioral health disorders, such as substance use disorders, that are connected to heart disease.
Stress Can Cause A Cardiac Event That Resembles A Heart Attack
More than 90% of stress-induced cardiomyopathy cases occur in older women.
- Sudden stress can cause a cardiac event that feels like a heart attack, called takotsubo cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome.
- This stress-induced cardiomyopathy isnt associated with the artery blockages that lead to a heart attack, though it may cause your heart to pump inefficiently for up to a month.
- Chronic stress can also cause high blood pressure and lead to smoking or an unhealthy diet, which are major risk factors for a heart attack.
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While stress cant directly cause a heart attack, it can have a major impact on your heart health, and even trigger an event that feels just like a heart attack.
Heres what you need to know about stress-induced cardiomyopathy, as well as the effects of chronic stress on your heart and how to manage it.
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Guidelines For Healthy Eating To Fight Stress
- Eat a wide variety of healthy foods.
- Eat in moderation â control the portions of the foods you eat.
- Reach a healthy weight and maintain it.
- Eat at least 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Eat food that is high in dietary fiber such as whole grain cereals, legumes, and vegetables.
- Minimize your daily fat intake. Choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Limit your consumption of sugar and salt.
- Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink.
- Make small changes in your diet over time.
- Combine healthy eating habits with a regular exercise program.
A Note About Sex And Gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms male, female, or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. .
In some cases, stress can directly cause cardiac events. These include Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, aortic dissection, which is a tear in the artery, and sudden spikes in blood pressure, also known as hypertensive emergencies.
Although these events are not heart attacks, they can look like them. For example, sudden stress can cause a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome, leading to symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea.
In people with this condition, stress abruptly the heart unable to pump enough blood throughout the body. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is different from a heart attack, which results from blockages in the arteries. However, the condition can cause lasting damage, as it shocks the heart muscle.
More commonly, stress can indirectly
- forgetting to take prescribed medication
Additionally, stress high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for a heart attack. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can increase blood pressure and reduce insulin resistance.
This, in turn, was associated with increased bone marrow activity, inflammation of the arteries, and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks.
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How Can I Cope With Stress
After youve identified the cause of stress in your life, the next step is to learn techniques that can help you cope with stress while fighting heart disease. There are many techniques you can use to manage stress. Some of which you can learn yourself, while other techniques may require the guidance of a trained therapist.
Some common techniques for coping with stress include:
What Causes Chest Pain
It is always a good idea to visit a doctor at least once to rule out any potential heart health issues. Anxiety can cause chest pain, but an important factor in reducing the stress of that chest pain is by making sure you are confident that your heart is in good health. Visiting a doctor is never a bad thing!
Often those living with anxiety and panic attacks will experience chest pain caused by any number of different factors. Some of these include:
- Hyperventilation Those with panic attacks and anxiety are prone to hyperventilation, or breathing in too much oxygen. It is often due to rapid muscle contractions and excess air in the lungs. Hyperventilation contracts blood vessels and causes considerable chest pain.
- Bloating anxiety can be connected to excess gas or bloating. Hyperventilation disorder can contribute to this as well. Bloating can cause an increased amount of pressure on the lungs, which in turn leads to chest pain.
- Psychosomatic most people dont like to believe the idea that the problem is in their head, but those with extreme anxiety and panic attacks, that are worried about their health, may feel genuine pain even though no cause of pain is present. Psychosomatic means that a physical ailment is aggravated or caused by their thoughts. The anxious mind actually convinces the body that there is a symptom, in this case chest pain.
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Anxiety Attacks Can Cause Hyperventilation Which Can Cause Symptoms Similar To Those Of A Heart Attack
Calming yourself down, relaxing your breathing, and giving your body a few minutes to adjust usually alleviates symptoms that are solely related to hyperventilation and anxiety. Within a few minutes, you should be able to tell the difference as heart attack symptoms generally dont subside this easily or quickly.
What Lifestyle Changes Does Heart Disease Require
If youve recently received a heart disease diagnosis, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to stay as healthy as possible. You can prepare for your appointment by creating a detailed list of your everyday habits. Possible topics include:
- medications you take
- losing weight if youre overweight
Making these changes all at once might not be possible. Discuss with your healthcare provider which lifestyle changes will have the biggest impact. Even small steps toward these goals will help keep you at your healthiest.
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How Are Stress And Heart Palpitations Related
Heart palpitations are a common symptom of your bodys flight or fight response to danger, stress or anxiety. If youre experiencing heart palpitations, it can feel like your heart is fluttering, pounding, racing or skipping a beat. They usually come and go within a few minutes.
If you occasionally experience heart palpitations, its usually nothing to worry about. But if it seems like your heart is always racing, you should talk to a doctor to see if its stress, anxiety or something else heart palpitations can be one of the symptoms of heart disease.
What Is The Connection Between Mental Health Disorders And Heart Disease
A large and growing body of research shows that mental health is associated with risk factors for heart disease before a diagnosis of a mental health disorder and during treatment. These effects can arise both directly, through biological pathways, and indirectly, through risky health behaviors.5
People experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, and even PTSD over a long period of time may experience certain physiologic effects on the body, such as increased cardiac reactivity , reduced blood flow to the heart, and heightened levels of cortisol. Over time, these physiologic effects can lead to calcium buildup in the arteries, metabolic disease, and heart disease.1,6-11
Evidence shows that mental health disorderssuch as depression, anxiety, and PTSDcan develop after cardiac events, including heart failure, stroke, and heart attack.5,12-20 These disorders can be brought on after an acute heart disease event from factors including pain, fear of death or disability, and financial problems associated with the event.5,16
Some literature notes the impact of medicines used to treat mental health disorders on cardiometabolic disease risk. The use of some antipsychotic medications has been associated with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, stroke, and death.21
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What Groups Have Higher Rates Of Heart Disease From Mental Health Disorders
Specific populations, such as the following, show higher rates of heart disease as a result of pre-existing mental health disorders:
Veterans. Studies found that veterans are at a higher risk for heart disease, mainly due to PTSD as a result of combat.22-26
Women. Studies exclusively focused on women found that PTSD and depression may have damaging effects on physical health, particularly with increased risk for coronary heart disease related morbidity and mortality.27,28
Couples with someone who has PTSD. Comparative studies found that couples where one or both partners had PTSD experienced more severe conflict, greater anger, and increased cardiovascular reactivity to conflict discussions than couples where neither partner had PTSD. Anger and physiological stress responses to couple discord might contribute to CHD and heart disease risk within these relationships.29,30
Racial and ethnic minorities. Lastly, studies focused on racial or ethnic minority groups found that depression, stress, and anxiety due to disparities in social determinants of health,31 adverse childhood experiences,32 and racism/discrimination33-35 could place certain subpopulations at a higher risk for hypertension,32,33,35,36 cardiovascular reactivity,35 heart disease,31,34 and poor heart health outcomes.37
Who Is At Risk For Getting Broken Heart Syndrome
You may be at higher risk for getting broken heart syndrome if you are a middle-aged woman. The risk of developing the condition increases five times after the age of 55. While the syndrome has been reported in younger women, in men and even in children, the vast majority of patients are post-menopausal women. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it is believed that because the female hormone estrogen helps to protect the heart from the harmful effects of adrenaline, women become particularly vulnerable to the effects of sudden stress as they grow older and their estrogen levels decline. Other risk factors for developing this condition include a history of anxiety, depression or neurologic illness.
Stay on Top of Your Heart Health
If you have a new or existing heart problem, its vital to see a doctor. Our heart health checklist can help you determine when to seek care.
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Can Panic Attacks Cause Heart Attacks
Finally, another issue that worries people is whether an anxiety attack can cause a heart attack.
The short answer is no, not on their own. But the long answer is that long term stress can damage the body, including the heart, and may contribute to health issues years down the road. Also, those that do have a heart problem but also suffer from panic attacks may be at greater risk for a heart attack, although the risk isn’t enormous.
Stress Has Scientists Scratching Their Heads
Still, the associations noted in this study, while statistically significant, do not prove causation, Tawakol said. More research is needed to replicate the findings in a larger sample of patients.
Id say the findings are definitely novel, show promise and bear replication, said Thomas Kamarck, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He has written about psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease but was not involved in the new study.
Measuring brain activity to predict cardiovascular events is quite unique and interesting, Kamarck said. However, the implication of the paper is that this measure of brain activity can be used as a marker of cumulative exposure to stress. This, Im not so confident about and will require some additional validation.
Thats because there has been much debate among scientists about how exactly to measure stress, Kamarck said.
There is no consensus about the best way to define and to measure stress, he said. One of my questions about the measure of resting amygdala activity used by these authors is whether it is best conceptualized as a marker of stressor exposure, stress reactivity or perhaps both.
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How Does Stress Cause A Heart Attack
The exact way in which stress might lead to a heart attack is not fully understood and it is still being researched. There is no solid evidence that stress directly affects the heart muscle or causes a heart attack. However, studies suggest that chronic stress can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn can lead to plaque buildup in the coronary arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.
Also, in stressful situations, the body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to help in reacting to the situation. These so-called stress hormones increase your heart rate and blood pressure to give you a burst of energy . When the dangerous or stressful situation passes, hormone levels return to normal. In people with normal cardiovascular health, this temporary surge is not a problem. However, in those with underlying heart disease, sudden stress and a sudden increase in blood pressure may lead to a higher risk of a heart attack. For instance, it could cause a cholesterol plaque in the blood vessels to rupture, leading to the formation of blood clots, which can block blood flow to the heart muscle and cause a heart attack. A surge in blood pressure can also cause arrhythmia , which can increase the risk for heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Why Do Anxiety Attacks Cause Heart Attack
Panic attacks tend to cause a chain reaction in the body that triggers many of these physical symptoms. Some of these reactions include:
- Hyperventilation Poor breathing can cause chest pains, shortness of breath, etc. It can also lead to lightheadedness and muscle weakness.
- Adrenaline The anxiety from a panic attack leads to an adrenaline rush, causing rapid heartbeat. Like hyperventilation, it can cause tingling in the extremities and other heart attack-like symptoms.
- Hyper-sensitivity Another issues is known as hypersensitivity. It’s when the person experiences a lesser symptom more than someone without hypersensitivity would experience. For example, a small amount of chest pain might physically feel more severe, when any other person would shrug it off.
In addition, physical stress can cause a host of problems, like memory loss, indigestion, and more, and these can contribute to the heart attack experience in their own way.
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What Is Acute Stress
Acute stress happens to everyone. This type of stress is a response to sudden or scary situations like when your friends jump out and yell surprise or when you narrowly miss a pothole while going downhill on a bicycle.
For most people, acute stress doesnt have any lasting effects on their overall health. In some situations, this type of stress can even be a good thing like when its down to the final point on trivia night and your teammates are looking to you for the answer. Experiencing this type of acute stress can help your body get better at handling stress in the future.
Ideally, your acute stress and the flight-or-fight response that comes with it should only be temporary. Once you score the winning point for your team, the physical symptoms of stress should go away, your body should return to its natural state, and there should be no long-term effects on your health. But thats not always the case with acute stress.
When acute stress can affect physical health
Acute stress may affect your heart health if your body isnt able to quickly recover following the stressful event. For example:
- You experience severe acute stress. After experiencing a traumatic or life-threatening event, some people can remain stressed about the event for up to a month.
- You experience frequent instances of acute stress. Some people may experience acute stress multiple times throughout a week or a single day due to their job, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
Why Do People With Heart Conditions Feel Anxious
Many people worry about the future when theyve just been diagnosed with a heart condition. Its common to feel anxious after a life changing heart attack or surgery or when having symptoms such as chest pain. Anxiety about whether a device like a pacemaker or ICD will not work properly is also very common.
Feeling anxious, worried or fearful is a natural response to life changing experiences. For most people the fear and anxiety eases off as they come to terms with their condition and learn how to manage it.
But its important to recognise when these feelings carry on for longer than usual and start affecting your health, relationships and quality of life.
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