Can stress cause a heart attack?

Certain receptors on the heart muscle and the heart arteries are very sensitive to adrenaline generated by stress. Adrenaline can overstimulate the arteries, causing a heart attack.

Your body’s fight or flight response is nature’s way of helping you cope with stressful situations. Faced with stress, your body will secrete adrenaline to amp up your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure — all things that can help if you are in a dangerous situation.

But when stress is chronic, your body remains in high gear for an unhealthy amount of time.

Learn your links to heart disease

Despite efforts to diagnose and treat heart disease early, many Americans are unaware of their risk. Are you one of them?

learn your links to heart disease

“Stress is very dangerous, and in fact, it can kill,” said William R. Schmidt II, M.D., interventional and nuclear cardiologist with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute. “There are certain receptors on the heart muscle and the heart arteries that are very sensitive to adrenaline, and it can overstimulate the arteries, causing a heart attack.”

Stress signs

The American Red Cross has identified some red flags that your stress level might be nearing the danger zone. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your physician:

  • Digestive issues and body aches: Stress can cause upset stomach and headaches, and lead to tightened muscles that contribute to body aches.
  • Low energy level: Stress can disrupt sleep, leaving you feeling tired during the day.
  • Emotional triggers: Stress can cause a mix of depression, anger, helplessness, anxiety and tension, which in turn can increase your stress levels, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

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