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Stress and Heart disease


Stress Cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that arises due to intense stress either emotional or physical. Examples of emotional stress could be the loss of a love one, getting fired unexpectedly, strong arguments, divorce, being falsely accused of a serious crime resulting in extreme fear or anger, and other emotional stressors. Examples of physical stress could be, being involved in a ghastly motor accident, being diagnosed of a fatal illness or having to go through a major surgery to name a few.

My point here is stress. Stress is a major cause of heart disease, either directly as in the above heart condition or indirectly, by affecting risk factors that cause heart disease like high blood pressure, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol intake or smoking. We all experience stress in our life, some could be minor while others could be extreme, however the important thing is how we handle stress. Are we the cool, calm, collected type who tries to be logical, or are we the hair in the wind type with smoke flaring through our nose and ears? Stress causes damage to the body mainly by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline, which leads to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and in Stress Cardiomyopathy, to spasms of the coronary arteries, that is the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the heart. The degree of damage to our heart depends on the intensity and duration of the stress and how we manage it.

Stress Cardiomyopathy, also referred to as broken heart syndrome is more common in women than men. It tends to affect women who have reached menopause. It’s more common in people who suffer from anxiety or depression. It presents like a heart attack with chest pain and difficulty breathing. It can lead to heart failure because the heart muscle becomes weak and unable to pump blood to the rest of the body, and can be life threatening if not treated adequately. However the good news is that the condition is temporary and recovery is normally complete in a few weeks, but there is a possibility of recurrence after the first incidence.

Recommendation is stress management. If you allow stress to overwhelm you, it becomes a bigger problem. Three main antidotes to stress are exercise, adequate sleep and positive thinking, the “I’ve got this” attitude. If it leads to anxiety or depression, see your doctor or healthcare provider. If necessary join a stress management class. Some say talk to a friend, but beware who you talk to, so that it doesn’t lead to gossip or rumor mongering which you may not like. Also, avoid drowning your sorrow in heavy drinking or smoking or binge eating. And remember, if you can’t cope, flee. There is no shame in it. Retreat is not the same as defeat. It’s a strategy used in war to gain advantage.

About Dr Emeka Okocha

Consultant Cardiologist with interest in preventive cardiology

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