Sudden stress or long-term stress can impact your heart health.
If you are experiencing stress or not handling your stress with healthy tools, it may affect your heart health.
When the body feels stress, the natural reaction is to release adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that can cause your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. Many know this as the body’s “fight or flight” response. However, prolonged or frequent high stress levels can be dangerous for your heart health.
“Stress is very dangerous risk factor when it comes to heart disease,” said William R. Schmidt, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists. “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.”
It is a rare phenomenon for a sudden stress event to cause sudden death; however, it does happen. Cardiologists are more concerned about the long-term effects of chronic stress.
“Chronic stress that isn’t managed can have devastating impacts. Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as overeating, smoking, excessive drinking and depression,” Dr. Schmidt said.
Signs that stress is affecting your health
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?
The American Red Cross has identified some red flags that indicate 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.
Dr. Schmidt encourages finding healthy alternatives to managing stress through exercise, setting aside time to work on a hobby you enjoy or participating in a meditation-focused program such as yoga or tai chi.
“Find something that works for you and stick with it,” Dr. Schmidt said. “If the stress is still bothering you even after trying to refocus your energy, consider talking to your primary care provider or a health care professional about other coping mechanisms.”