This can negatively impact the heart. here’s why stress matters.
With momentous life changes, it is often our response to them that causes stress to our bodies. Dr mak Koon hou, a cardiologist and board member of the Singapore Heart Foundation, explains the link between stress and heart health.
Q: How is stress related to the heart?
Stress is a state induced when we face a significant challenge in our usual routine. Our body is conditioned to react to such challenges, whether positive or negative, by a complex neurological and hormonal system. this is so whether we are confronted by a tiger or in the presence of a very attractive person. to enable someone to be alert and to act rapidly, the body raises the heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. Food stores such as glucose are released into the blood stream so the body has the resources to react to the situation – the fight or flight response. Rapid and long-term responses to the source of the stress may have detrimental effects on the body.
Q: What are stress-related cardiac issues?
In some cases, though uncommon, stress can lead to a heart attack or sudden death. Dr mak heard about a woman who had a heart attack after quarelling with another woman over a minor accident in a carpark. the incident caused a small dent in one car, but voices were raised and tempers flared. one of the women then complained of severe chest pain. a doctor later found that she had experienced a heart attack, he said. “It was not caused by a blocked artery. she had a condition known as broken heart syndrome. Fortunately, her outcome was good.”
Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition usually triggered by the sudden release of stress hormones. Dr mak said that in some cases, the heart rhythm may become totally erratic and the person may die suddenly. this is known as ventricular fibrillation, and occurs when the heart’s lower chambers quiver and cannot pump blood to the body. In cases of long-term stress, like work stress, the blood pressure may be raised. Chronic stress is associated with other illnesses, as well as eating and sleep disorders. these conditions may eventually affect the heart.
Q: Can managing stress prevent heart problems?
Stress cannot be easily quantified. It is measured in other ways, for example, with questionnaires. It is thus not easy to determine how managing stress can reduce or prevent heart problems. “studies, particularly those followed up for long periods, are difficult to conduct,” said Dr mak. “but empirically, we believe that by minimising the adverse consequences of stress, the occurrence of heart problems may be lowered.”