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Jun 27, 2013

Perception of Stress Linked to Heart Attack Risk

Study shows that people who believe stress negatively impacts their health are at increased risk for heart attack.

We know that high levels of stress on an ongoing basis can negatively impact heart health by increasing blood pressure and heart disease risk. But according to a study published today in the European Heart Journal, our perception of stress can also have an enormous impact on risk for heart attack.

This study was led by Dr. Hermann Nabi, a French researcher who with the help of his team followed more than 7,200 middle-aged men and women in the United Kingdom to see how perception of stress impacted heart health. Upon entering the study, participants were asked to complete a survey asking whether they believed stress or pressure in their life had negatively impacted their health. Participants could answer “not at all,” “slightly or moderately” or “a lot or extremely.” Researchers then followed subjects for as long as 18 years to see whether or not they had a heart attack.

After taking into account factors like age, gender, race, and income, researchers found that adults who believed their health had been extremely affected by stress had more than double the risk of having a heart attack compared to those reporting no effect of stress on their health. And after taking into account additional factors like blood pressure, actual stress levels and social support, people perceiving health effects from stress were still nearly 50% more likely to suffer a heart attack compared to those reporting no effect of stress on their health.

By adjusting for the many factors that could explain the relationship between perceived stress and heart attack risk, like age or blood pressure, researchers were able to identify perception of stress as an independent risk factor for heart attack.

There are a number of take-home messages from this research study. The findings demonstrate that people’s perception about the impact that stress has on their health is often correct. If you’re constantly under stress and feel that it’s taking a toll on your health—it probably is. As a result, it’s important that doctors and patients discuss their stress levels and find ways to cope with stress, like exercise or even medication, when necessary. By listening to patients’ concerns about stress and helping them manage stress more effectively, providers can help patients reduce their risk for heart attack and promote better heart health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I help reduce stress levels?

  • There are many methods for reducing stress, including exercise, meditation and deep breathing. Stress can affect adults in different ways, so it is important to try different stress reduction approaches in order to find one that works best for you.

  • Who is at risk for heart attack?
  • The most common risk factors for heart attack include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart attack.

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