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Beware, your stress levels could increase your risk of a heart attack

by , 16 July 2013

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 17 million people die of heart attacks and strokes every year. But you don't have to wait for a heart attack to strike before you take better care of your heart. Read on to discover how stress contributes to deadly heart attacks so you can reduce your risk.

Stress is the end result of conflict between the demands of your life and your ability to meet those demands. The most common stressors are family, work and finances.

“At one time or another, we have all let stress influence our health behaviors,” says William L. Fischer, author of How to Fight Heart Disease and Win. For example, when stressed, you may overeat or smoke more than usual.

While researchers aren’t saying stress causes heart disease, they believe that at the very least it aggravates heart conditions, and that people are more likely to have heart attacks during stressful times.

The Texas Heart Institute (THI) outlines examples of how stress can lead to a heart attack

  • When you’re under stress, your heart race and your blood pressure rises—increasing the demand for oxygen. If you have an unhealthy heart, your heart won’t be able to pump blood fast enough to supply you with oxygen. This can result in angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle).
  • During stressful times, the nervous system releases extra hormones (such as adrenaline). These hormones raise one’s blood pressure, which can injure the lining of your arteries. When your arteries heal, the walls may harden or thicken— making it easier for plaque to build up.
  • If you’re stressed, blood clots are more likely to form. These clots could block an artery already narrowed by plaque. And this may lead to a heart attack.

Is there a way you can manage stress and reduce your risk of a heart attack?

Dr. Denton Cooley of the Texas Heart Institute (THI) recommends you manage stress to improve your life, no matter how healthy you are.

”But in order to do this, you must be able to identify when you are feeling overwhelmed. Common symptoms include a racing heart, sudden sweating, sudden anger, an upset stomach, headaches, anxiety, tensing of  muscles, and binge eating and drinking, to name a few,” says Dr Cooley.

Once you recognise you’re under stress, try to pinpoint the cause of it.

Dr Cooley recommends you find your personal pattern of stress, write down when you feel that way. Think about ways you could avoid such situations.

Exercising, crying, taking warm baths and breathing deeply are just a few ways to minimise stress. Find a method that works for you and reduce your risk of a heart attack.

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