How Does Stress Contribute to Heart Attacks?

Stress may lead to high-risk behaviors, like smoking, which can increase the risk of heart attack.
The stress of habitual gambling can contribute to heart attacks.
An unhealthy lifestyle can lead to blood clots and a weakened heart muscle.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Surprisingly, the connection between emotional stress levels and heart attacks may not be as apparent as one might believe. While it is certainly a good idea to reduce both physical and emotional stress levels, the scenario of suffering a massive heart attack immediately following an emotionally stressful event is most likely more myth than fact. Stress in and of itself does not create a fatal heart condition.

If anything, a certain amount of physical stress, whether it be exercise or work-related, can actually be beneficial to cardiovascular health. The more a muscle is challenged or exercised, the stronger it becomes. A reasonable amount of physical stress strengthens the heart muscles and should reduce the probability of heart attacks or other heart diseases. If a weakened or diseased heart is overworked through excessive physical exertion, however, it can reach a failure point. Physical stress, however, is not generally considered responsible for weakening heart muscles or aggravating an existing heart condition.

Emotional stress, on the other hand, is often seen as a potential trigger for heart attacks. Again, the direct connection between a person's emotional stress level and propensity for heart attacks is tenuous at best. Rather, the effects of emotional stress can cause a person to make dangerous or health-threatening lifestyle choices which in turn can raise the probability of heart attacks later in life.

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For example, emotional stress may cause a person to seek comfort in an extremely unhealthy diet, accompanied by a largely sedentary lifestyle. While the stress itself does not damage heart tissue directly, the cumulative effects of unhealthy foods and lack of exercise could lead to clogged arteries and poor cardiovascular conditioning. These conditions are more likely to contribute to the formation of dangerous blood clots or a weakening of the heart muscle itself, and eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Stress could also cause some people to engage in other high-risk behaviors, such as heavy drinking, cigarette smoking or habitual gambling. Combined with a volatile or defensive personality, a person could find him or herself refusing to seek out professional medical help. This could mean vital warning signs for heart disease could remain undiagnosed and untreated, which in turn could lead to heart attacks if the destructive lifestyle pattern continues unchecked.

While it cannot be stated with certainty that physical or emotional stress contributes directly to heart attacks, it is fairly certain that avoiding the destructive lifestyle choices stress can trigger is a good way to reduce the chance of heart attacks in the future.

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Discuss this Article

Oceana
Post 4

I think that elderly people have to be very careful with how much they exert themselves. Their hearts are generally weaker than those of young adults, and their risks for a heart attack are so much greater.

My grandfather was determined to maintain a garden, no matter how old he was. At age eighty-two, he was still out plowing the field in the heat. That is when he collapsed because of a heart attack.

After a brief stay at the hospital, he had to give up gardening. It was so hard for him to do, because he had worked in the field all his life, but he knew that he would be risking his life if he continued.

StarJo
Post 3

My uncle stayed at a very stressful job for years, and he eventually suffered a heart attack. Once he realized he was stuck in his dead-end job, he began to let his health go.

He started eating fast food for lunch every day, and he quit exercising altogether. Basically, he was depressed, and his habit reflected that. He had given up on getting anything good out of life, and I think he may have been trying to die faster subconsciously.

After about ten years of eating fat, greasy food and not exercising, he developed the symptoms of a heart attack while at his desk. He got very lightheaded and nauseous, and a pain shot up his left arm. He felt pressure in his chest, and he started sweating.

His boss noticed something was wrong, and he took him to the hospital. He survived, but he is still in the same situation, and I don't think it will be long before he has another heart attack.

lighth0se33
Post 2

@Perdido – I fully believe that grief, no matter what form it manifests itself in, can cause a heart attack. I don't even think it matters if you are in good health or in poor health. If you suffer enough emotionally, your body will follow suit.

My good friend lost her husband to a sudden stroke and massive heart attack last year. Sometime between when the paramedics were trying to revive him and the funeral, she suffered a mild heart attack.

She didn't know what was wrong at first, but when she went to her doctor, he tested her and determined she had actually had a heart attack. She and her husband were only thirty-five when this happened, and though high blood pressure and heart problems ran in his family, it did not run in hers. Grief and severe emotional pain literally gave her a heart attack.

Perdido
Post 1

Regardless of what some of my relatives may say, I still blame emotional stress on my brother's death of a heart attack. A drug overdose caused the heart attack, so many in my family say he brought it upon himself, but I know that he never would have gotten hooked on drugs if it weren't for the strain that the death of his wife placed upon his mind.

She died in a car accident after they had only been married a year. He could not cope with the pain on his own, so he relied on substances that could temporarily take it away.

He experimented with a variety of drugs. What finally killed him was speed. It literally sped up his heart so much that it could not handle it.

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