Jodi Whitaker

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College: Medicine

Reduce Stress and Heart Attack Risk

Published: Jan 10, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 10, 2013) - The following column appeares in the January issue of Kentucky Living magazine.

 

By Dr. Thomas F. Whayne Jr.

 


Making budgets, doing taxes, and planning for our financial future often cause us stress. But did you know stress can actually contribute to your risk of a heart attack? Reducing stress helps keep you healthy.

How does stress increase the risk of heart attack?
When you are going through a stressful situation, your heart reacts in several ways. Your body releases adrenaline, which in turn causes your blood pressure to rise, your breathing to get heavier, and your heart to race. Normally, the adrenaline helps you deal with the situation at hand.

If the stress is chronic and the adrenaline “rush” persists for a long period of time, that increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as other unspecified factors related to adrenaline, can cause arterial damage by promoting plaque formation in the coronary arteries. While it is not specifically known how stress and heart disease are linked, there is no question that there is some correlation.

Does age play a role in how stress affects heart health?
Age is a major factor in any type of cardiovascular disease. The older we get, the more likely we are to have plaque in our arteries. A significant amount of acute stress can cause plaque in the coronary arteries to rupture, form a clot, and cause a heart attack. Keeping stress at a minimum in the older population can prove helpful in preventing a heart attack.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
The classic symptoms most commonly seen are chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and fatigue. Other symptoms are possible as well. If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath, you should seek an explanation of why this is happening. Seeking medical attention is the best way to make sure you stay healthy.

Are there medicines that can be used to treat stress-related heart ailments?
While there are medicines that can be of value, the best medicine is to reduce stress in your life. Learn to manage your stress through relaxation exercises or stress management techniques. Less stress in your life could be one of the best ways to stay heart healthy.

Dr. Thomas F. Whayne Jr. is professor of medicine (cardiology) at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and a physician in the UK Gill Heart Institute.

 

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