Can Stress Increase Your Risk For Heart Disease?
Stress and anxiety have always been connected to heart problems. Stress's psychological, emotional, and social impact takes a massive toll on heart health. It temporarily leads to a heart problem called stress cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome.
Stress cardiomyopathy has increased due to increased emotional and financial stress especially during pandemic times. A study published by Jabri A et al. showed that people affected by these pandemic situations are more likely to get stress cardiomyopathy.
Stress cardiomyopathy is a short-term, reversible heart condition that shows symptoms such as irregular heart rhythm, blood clots and shock. It is also known as takotsubo syndrome, broken heart syndrome, ampulla cardiomyopathy and apical ballooning syndrome. In this condition, the heart undergoes a temporary period of dysfunction.
Causes Of Stress Cardiomyopathy:
Stress-induced cardiomyopathy can occur at any age, mainly in older women, due to severe physical and emotional stress. It usually affects women above 50 years, and researchers correlate the risk of cardiomyopathy to hormonal changes that are likely to arise during menopause.
The central autonomic nervous system controls some of the most critical heart functions. During stressful periods, the blood flows rapidly to these parts of the brain. The nerves and the associated peptides get activated in response to stress. The hormones accumulate in the space between the nerves and exhibit a direct toxic action on the heart. You are more likely to get stress cardiomyopathy if you already have other heart problems.
What Triggers Stress Cardiomyopathy?
Physical and emotional stress triggers stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Incidents that cause emotional stress like the death of a loved one, assault, violence, natural disasters, financial loss, fear and desperation are some of the most common triggers for cardiomyopathy. Some physical factors that cause cardiomyopathy include surgery, accident, seizures, stroke, severe pain, lung problems, head injury, etc.
Of course, not everyone undergoing physical or emotional stress develops stress cardiomyopathy. It depends on each individual's coping mechanism, social support, and existing mental health problems at the time of stress.
Symptoms Of Stress Cardiomyopathy:
The symptoms of stress cardiomyopathy are similar to that of a heart attack. Although complications are likely to occur, most people recover from them within a month. About 95% of patients are likely to regain their heart function entirely within weeks.
- Abrupt chest pain
- Breathing difficulty
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Fluid accumulation and swelling in legs and abdomen
- Blood clot formation
How Is Stress-Induced Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?
It is challenging to identify stress-induced cardiomyopathy in the first go since the symptoms are similar to that of a heart attack. The two initial tests to detect stress cardiomyopathy are ECG and blood troponin tests. The changes in ECG will be identical to that of heart attack, and troponin levels in the blood will be high. After the preliminary tests, your physician will conduct a chest angiography and MRI to analyse your heart functions. Unlike a heart attack, the heart's arteries will not show damage in stress cardiomyopathy.
Stress Cardiomyopathy Treatment:
If your physician suspects that you have suffered stress-induced cardiomyopathy, you will undergo treatment in an inpatient setting under the supervision of a healthcare team. Stress-induced cardiomyopathy treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and preventing further complications. Blood pressure medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers improve survival after the condition resolves.
Medications that induce urination and dilate heart vessels are prescribed to prevent heart failure due to high blood pressure. Some patients might be recommended with medicines that prevent blood clot formation. Apart from medications, physical and emotional triggers that cause stress should be addressed.
What Can You Do At Home?
It is possible to cope with stress at home. However, one thing that you should not do at home is self-medication. Medicines could work by relieving the symptoms, but they do not bring any long-term change to your stress. Whenever you find yourself stressing out, make sure you handle it by practising the following techniques:
Mindfulness meditation helps you cope with stress by focusing on the present moment. It deepens your concentration and improves your ability to be aware and awake in the present moment.
Create a quiet space around you where you can unwind your day's stress through activities like painting, reading books, listening to music, etc.
Try to release stress through exercise or other physical activities whenever you get angry or upset. Schedule appropriate timings for work and recreation so that you avoid feeling burdened. You can try swimming, yoga, running, playing sports or gardening to unwind your stress and relax your mind.
Treat your heart right:
Seek moral support from a friend, family member or health practitioner. Seeing your problems from a third person's perspective might help alleviate stress. Consult a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker if you feel overburdened with your concerns and find it hard to cope with stress.