Stress and Heart Disease

What's the connection between stress and heart disease?

Does stress increase the risk of coronary heart disease?

These are important questions given that lifestyle stress in on the increase.

You just need to read the front page of the local newspaper to see that stress is a part of life.

Stress and heart disease are related in a number of ways.

When stress increases blood pressure increases.

This makes the heart work harder.

Stress also increases the cholesterol in the blood.

Here we discuss these two ways that stress and heart disease are related and what you can do to reduce your stress and heart attack risks.

Stress and heart disease: Some of the evidence

It is common knowledge that those who have more stress in their lives have more chance of coronary heart disease.

Did you know that there are more heart attacks on Monday than on Friday?

Job stress and heart disease are related.

Those who work in more stressful jobs also have a higher chance of heart disease than their fellow workers in less stressful jobs.

In a study on job stress and heart disease, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal a sample of 10,308 workers were examined for 15 years.

The study found that chronic work stress was associated with coronary heart disease.1

Medical researchers suggest that stress and heart disease are related in a number of ways.

  1. Stress can increase blood pressure causing the heart to work harder
  2. Stress can change the blood chemistry – resulting in more cholesterol in the blood, and
  3. Stress can lead to more unhealthy behaviors (e.g. smoking and less exercise), which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Stress and heart disease: What's the connection?

Increased blood pressure and hypertension

When the fight or flight response the body moves blood away from organs to the muscles in preparation to fight or flee from the stress.

Stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are released into the blood stream which cause the heart to pump harder and the vessels to constrict.

You may notice your heart beating harder and faster, which is a common symptom of stress.

This stress increases blood pressure and hypertension.

I talk more about the relationship between stress and high blood pressure and stress and hypertension in these articles.

Stress changes the blood chemistry

One of the stress hormones released is cortisol. When the stress response is activated, cortisol increases the fatty acids in the blood.

This means there is a positive relationship between stress and cholesterol.

As stress increases so to does your cholesterol.

This increase in cholesterol heightens the body’s ability to heal damaged tissue but can become a major problem when this cholesterol forms on the walls of arteries.

As cholesterol forms on the walls of the arteries there is less room for the blood to get through.

Warning Signs of Stress

Your body provides you with a number of warning signs of stress.

Knowing your signs of stress, what your causes of stress are, and how you react to stress is important for your overall stress management

In time this build-up of plaque on the arterial walls can lead to atherosclerosis.

At the same time, the stress hormones cause the blood vessels to constrict which further increasing blood pressure more.

As you experience stress your heart pumps more blood which further increases plaque build-up in the same spot.

This plaque build-up reduces the ability of the blood to flow freely through the arteries.

The further increase in blood pressure makes it harder for the heart to do its work and makes your body more susceptible to a stress heart attack.

Stress management techniques as a precautionary measure

While medical researchers are not completely sure of the exact link between stress and heart disease, it is probably time to take some precautionary measures against stress.

Stress management techniques can help you to take control of stress and improve your ability to cope with the effects of stress.

Understand your stress. Identifying your signs of stress and your main causes of stress can help you to put in place the appropriate stress management techniques.

Download a stress diary today that gives you an objective baseline of your stress levels so that you can set achievable stress management goals.

Relaxation techniques. When stressed your body activates the stress response which manifests in a number of symptoms of stress.

Relaxation techniques help you to counter the effects of stress on body and mind.

Relaxation exercises activate the relaxation response which can short circuit the stress response.

Lifestyle changes and healthy habits. Often when stressed we can turn to comfort foods that can reduce our ability to cope with stress.

By adopting a healthy balanced diet you ensure that you get the right stress nutrition and counter the effects of stress and minimize your risks of heart disease.

Exercise reduces stress. Exercise relaxes the muscles and uses up the accumulated stress products.

There are a number of ways that exercise reduces stress.

But the benefits of exercise extend beyond stress reduction to reduced obesity and better health - both factors that reduce the incidence of heart disease.

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1Chandola, T., Brunner, E., Marmot, M. Chronic stress at work and the metabolic syndrome: prospective study. British Medical Journal. January 20, 2006.

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