Can stress cause heart attack? Ways to manage stress to safeguard your heart
All work and no play can impact your heart health. Stress, be it acute or chronic can increase the heart rate, blood pressure and can lead to heart attack
Stress has emerged as one of the major risk factors for heart attack in recent times. As per researchers from Harvard University, stress is as dangerous as smoking or high blood pressure for heart. This has brought a major lifestyle factor that could be affecting our hearts in focus. Dr Gaurav Gandhi, a noted cardiologist from Gujarat, died of heart attack on Tuesday at the age of 41. The cardiologist's colleague told Indian Express that Dr Gandhi was working for 14 hours a day, didn't smoke or drink alcohol and had no medical history to make him more at risk of heart attack. (Also read: Cardiologists on why doctors could be at higher risk of heart attack; suggest heart care tips)
Impact of acute and chronic stress on heart health
"Stress can cause heart attack. It cannot directly cause heart attack, but it can precipitate it. Acute stress is a more frequent cause of heart attack than the chronic one. Acute stress can lead to increase in adrenaline and other hormone levels which increases heart rate and BP. It also makes plaque more vulnerable to rupture and it increases the coagulable state as well. Everything combined, it may lead to heart attack," Dr Nityanand Tripathi, Director and HOD — cardiology and electrophysiology at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh told HT Digital.
Coping with stress in an unhealthy way like skipping meals, over-eating, not taking out time for relaxation or exercise can have an impact on heart health and cause heart attacks.
"Chronic stress has multi-factorial effect on our body. Chronic stress can lead to increased emotional stress, and blood pressure. To cope with chronic stress, a person resorts to unhealthy habits like smoking, over-eating, avoiding exercise and not taking proper and healthy foods, lack of relaxation, all these can lead to maladaptations in the body, thereby increasing the chances of heart attack. They also increase chances of getting diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure. Everything combined leads to increase in plaque formation and if there is a plaque formation and acute stress at some point of time, it can lead to heart attack," says Dr Tripathi.
"Chronic stress can also cause a heart attack, but more than that, emotional stress is the one which is the most dangerous for heart attacks. Stress is the most important precipitating factor heart attacks in younger population apart from smoking. A person having problems of high BP, diabetes, cholesterol, obesity already might be having heart blockages of 30-40%. When this person goes through emotional stress, the heart block ruptures and forms a blood clot which can reach to a 100% block. So, a normal person going through emotional stress who also has pre-existing blocks, can get a heart attack even without any premonitory symptoms. Even physical stress like the stress one faces in the gym, can cause heart attacks due to the same reason," says Dr. V. Vinoth Kumar, Senior Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, CARE Hospitals, Hi-Tec City, Hyderabad.
Sometimes, you can't tell if you are stressed
Dr Sanjeev Chaudhary, Director- Cardiology at Marengo Asia Hospitals, Gurugram says that stress is a very important factor in causing heart diseases but it is not quantifiable.
"Sometimes there are patients who can feel a lot of stress even if there is a significant disturbance in their life but sometimes there are some other patients who do not feel stress so it is a non-quantifiable thing and that makes it very difficult to assess that what is the effect of stress on heart attack. But stress is a very has a very important role, Both acute stress and chronic stress can increase heart rate, blood pressure and can be a contributor to heart disease," he says.
So, how do we beat the stress
One needs to prioritise what really matters and that is health. Not taking out enough time out of the daily duties can ultimately impact heart and even be fatal.
"Take some time in between for relaxation. Meditation and Yoga definitely helps. Exercise also helps in keeping body fit and well. Do not use alcohol and smoking to beat the stress. Regularly spend time with loved ones in the family. It's important to take care of mental and physical health so overall heart attacks can be prevented or reduced," advises Dr Tripathi.
"Yoga, meditation, attitude. There are some questionnaires which can if you answer them correctly, tell you how much stress do you have and based on that you can modify your lifestyle. But one thing I want to convey that do not ever be shy in seeking professional help," says Dr Chaudhary.
“One can beat their stress by performing Yoga and Meditation, and by slowing the pace of their life. Most of the times we all give a lot of importance to our work, but one also must consider the other aspects of their life and spend time for themselves by taking breaks in between to maintain a balance. When one has psychological stress, which is affecting their routine life, they can seek help of a psychologist or a psychiatrist, in cases of the patient not being able to come out of the stress on their own,” says Dr Kumar.
Get rid of stigma attached to stress
"Like our body gets diseased, our mind also gets diseased. But there is a lot of stigma attached to stress induced disorders in India and people tend to push it under the carpet. They don't reveal it and they are not ready to visit a psychiatrist or psychologist in a fear that they will be labelled as a mentally ill patient. But there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's better to seek professional health and try to seek it at an early stage so that you can be benefited," concludes Dr Chaudhary.