Are Your Stress Levels Affecting Your Heart?

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Stress affects the best of us, the worst of us and the strongest of us. We go through events in life that can keep us pre-occupied for day if not weeks or even years.

A constant worry that individuals have is whether the stress levels they are suffering from can affect their physical health. In particular, does stress that we suffer from affect the heart?

The unfortunate fact is this – yes, it does. It increases the chances of developing high blood pressure, irregular heart beats and heart disease in general.

It is well known that sudden events such as a road traffic accident or the loss of a loved one can precipitate stress. This sort of stress can cause a rise in the blood pressure that is often temporary.

Another example could be the stress levels that patients experience when they visit their doctor’s clinic. a rise in the blood pressure is not an expected and this condition has sometimes been called ‘white coat hypertension’.

Types of Stress

There are numerous types of stress that one can experience. These include –

  • Job stress
  • Family stress
  • Stress regarding the welfare of children
  • Caring for family members who are ill
  • School/college/education stress
  • Drug addiction or substance abuse stress

Can Stress Affect The Blood Pressure?

As has been explained above, it is not uncommon for blood pressure to rise temporarily during stress. However, if the stress levels continue for prolonged periods of time, the blood vessels may start to get damaged.

Damaged blood vessels become extremely hard and do not relax and contract very well. Due to this, patients who have high blood pressure for a short period of time may develop permanent damage of the blood vessels and this causes hypertension which requires treatment.

Many a times, stress is accompanied by other risk factors such as smoking, comfort eating and lack of exercise. In addition, patients tend to consume more alcohol as a way to relieve stress.

All these factors contribute towards the development of high blood pressure  and subsequently heart disease.

Clinical studies conducted in Denmark have shown that individuals who have high levels of stress  have a higher chance of developing a stroke. Other studies have shown similar results.

Given that we now understand that stress can increase the chance of developing high blood pressure, one obvious question that arises is the following – ‘does anti-stress therapy help bring down blood pressure?’

Do Relaxation Therapies Bring Down Blood Pressure?

Many of us believe that performing relaxation therapies such as yoga and meditation can help bring down the blood pressure. Modern medicine has advanced a great deal these days and the availability of safe and effective medication means that it is easier to control blood pressure through tablets than through relaxation therapies.

The busy lives that we lead in India make it very difficult for us to make sufficient amount of time to perform adequate amount of yoga and exercise.

Having said that, it is still important for us to do what we can with regards to exercise and dieting.  Yoga and relaxation therapies can only reduce blood pressure slightly and cannot effectively treat patients who have significantly high blood pressure.

In this day and age, high blood pressure is best managed to medical therapy along with relaxation therapies and lifestyle modifications.

It is this combined approach that can help manage stress effectively while bringing down the blood pressure simultaneously.

Can Stress Affect The Heart?

When we are under stress, numerous mediators such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are released in the blood stream. These mediators have the capability of increasing the heart rate and blood pressure.

Sometimes, the heart rate can increase to a point where it beats fast and irregularly. On rare occasions, these irregular heartbeats  can be life threatening and require urgent treatment.

Large clinical studies have confirmed the link between high stress levels and heart attacks. From the available data, it appears that stress at work or at home increases the chances of developing heart disease by up to 45%. However, if this kind of stress is sustained over prolonged periods of time, it can increase that the risk of heart attacks by over 110%!

Money matters and financial stress increases the risk of heart disease by around 35% while life changing events can increase the chances of developing heart attacks by 48% ( this data has been obtained from the Lancet journal – see below for reference).

Can Exercise Help Reduce Stress Levels?

Performing a regular exercise stimulates a part of the human physiology that is responsible for reducing the heart rate and the blood pressure. This in turn reduces the stress the heart has to undergo.

Overall, performing exercise has been shown to reduce the chances of an individual developing heart disease and a heart attack. In addition, the endorphin release  that is associated with exercise can significantly reduce stress bigstock-Woman-walking-cross-country-an-19279082levels.

It is therefore recommended that all individuals who are under stress start some form of exercise. It is extremely useful in reducing stress levels and can help you live longer.

Of course, before starting any form of exercise, please make sure you visit your health care practitioner to ensure that is safe for you to do so.

Tips To Reduce Stress

  1. Perform some form of exercise everyday. This can be just simple walking or even activities such as sports. Make sure it is something you enjoy.
  2. Stop smoking. It does not solve any problems.
  3. Avoid alcohol. If you have to drink, make sure it is in moderation.
  4. Try relaxation therapies such as yoga, meditation and prayer

These simple techniques can help reduce stress levels remarkably.

Note: If your stress levels are affecting you or a family member and you are concerned, make sure you visit a registered psychiatrist or psychologist for advice and management before it is too late.

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Recommended reading

 

If you are looking to reduce your stress levels significantly, then this book can offer you some good techniques on how to achieve that. Click on the image below to access it.


 

Reference

Rosengren, Annika, et al. “Association of psychosocial risk factors with risk of acute myocardial infarction in 11 119 cases and 13 648 controls from 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study.” The Lancet 364.9438 (2004): 953-962.

 

 

 

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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Dr Vivek Baliga B

Consultant Internal Medicine And Cardiovascular Sciences at Baliga Diagnostics Pvt Ltd
Dr Baliga is a consultant in Internal Medicine and Cardiology with an interest in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He received his training in India and the UK where he completed his post graduate training and his doctorate. He then completed his MBA from University of Phoenix, USA. He has completed the post graduate program in Cardiology from Johns Hopkins University and participated in the Advanced Certificate Course in Diabetes from the Cleveland Clinic, USA. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Lipid Management from Middlesex University, UK. He is the managing partner of Baliga Diagnostics, Bangalore. He is also the founder of HeartSense and is a keen advocate of patient empowerment, having written almost every article on this website and more. In his spare time, he enjoys running and spending time with his son. Find Dr Vivek Baliga on LinkedIn here - http://heartsense.in/linkedin.
Dr Vivek Baliga B
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