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Image: heart stress ball being squeezed by hand - Health Blog: New study links stress and heart disease

New study links stress and heart disease

Study identifies stress as a risk factor, akin to smoking and high blood pressure


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February 24, 2017

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world. Every year, over 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States alone. The numbers are staggering, but a new study warns worrying about it is not the answer.

“There have been studies that draw an association between stress levels and increased rates of heart attacks over the last 15 years or so,” said Dr. Paul Sarcia, a cardiologist at Methodist Hospital. “But nobody has really tried to connect the dots all the way back to the brain itself. I think this study is starting to do that.”

The study was published in the medical journal, The Lancet, last month. It was led by a team of Harvard Medical School researchers.

Research suggests that the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that deals with emotions, signals to the bone marrow to produce extra white blood cells. That can cause arteries causing to become inflamed. And that can cause a heart attack, stroke or angina.

Researchers warn at-risk patients to take steps early on to manage stress. Dr. Sarcia said he talks to his patients about stress. And he encourages them to try things like yoga, meditation or even acupuncture.

“There’s no specific data suggesting that those things will reduce risk of heart attack or stroke, but there does seem to be some evidence that they reduce stress. If you connect the dots, there is some hope.”

Stress affects different people in different ways. Some people turn to things like food, alcohol or tobacco to relieve stress. Other people choose to watch television or other laid back activities, missing out on physical activity to release the adrenaline in their bodies.

Instead of relieving stress through potentially harmful activities, try these methods to help your body and mind relax and give your heart a healthy boost.

  • Exercise – Studies show that exercising helps improve moods.
  • Talking about it - Open up to friends or loved ones.
  • Crying – Don’t be afraid to cry. It’s your body’s way of getting rid of cortisol, a hormone that causes stress.
  • Disconnect – A lot of the stress comes from the world around us.

If you know someone at risk of heart disease, talk to a doctor about a heart health screening and examination. Heart exams involve simple checkups like checking your blood pressure, checking your heart rate and a regular physical exam.

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