Yes, Stress Affects Your Heart. Here’s How.

We live very fast paced lives, and that fast pace can sometimes lead to a lot of stress for us, and that, in turn, can be difficult on our hearts. So here to talk a little more about that is Kamala Tamirisa, MD, FACC, FHRS, with ProMedica Physicians Cardiology.

Chrys Peterson: Dr. Tamirisa, I think we all just get on that treadmill and just keep going and going and going, trying to get everything we have to get done, done—trying to take care of our families, work, all of those things. But that stress can really be harmful to your heart. Tell us how that works.

Dr. Kamala Tamirisa: Stress, or fight and flight response releases adrenaline, which is a hormone that increases the blood pressure leading to hypertension. Some people respond to stress by overeating, causing obesity and stress can also lead to inactivity or physical activity, not only that but if you look at people with stress they don’t get enough rest and they don’t sleep. Again, it feeds into this cycle of causing ill health overall.

It’s like a spiral once something starts happening with stress. People don’t realize, too, that sometimes stress is positive. Even if you are feeling good at what you are doing, if you are running at that fast pace, if you’re not getting enough sleep, those types of things then you might be also having stress response to your heart, correct?

Absolutely, the heart runs at the same pace you’re running so the heart rate increases constantly even if a patient is resting and trying to sleep, the heart rate is very fast because of underlying stress and that is not good for the heart.

Let me ask you about broken heart syndrome. That is a stress-related heart ailment, right? Is that a real thing?

Yes, it is a real thing and a major stressful incident in someone’s life whether it’s a divorce, I had a patient with the fire where she lost her home or death of a loved one could lead to a broken heart syndrome where because of acute stress, sudden stress, the heart just dilates and stops pumping and those people are at a higher risk of sudden death and congestive heart failure.

So how do we know when we need to take a break or take a step back or make a change in our lifestyle?

Listen to your body. When you feel like this is it, I can’t handle any more than your body will speak to you. Slow down and small changes go a long way.

Let’s talk about those. What are some things we can do to alleviate that stress?

I usually tell my patients to use a relaxation technique that fits your needs. For some people it might be mediation, yoga, or exercise. Listening to music, going to the park for a walk. You get two benefits from walking: you get the exercise and it’s a stress reliever.

Listen to your body. If you feel like you’re under a lot of pressure, under a lot of stress, your body’s probably feeling it in ways that maybe you don’t realize, so talk to your doctor about it. Make sure your family doctor knows all the things that are going on in your life when you have your appointment with them.

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