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How stress increases the risk of heart attacks

Written by Editorial Team |Published : November 21, 2014 7:29 PM IST

'Dr. John Hunter (1728 1793), who has developed angina pectoris eight years prior to his death made the famous remark that 'his life was in the hands of any rascal who chose to annoy and tease him'. His prophecy was fulfilled when he became emotionally disturbed with a colleague in a meeting at St. George s Hospital. Hunter s brother-in-law, Everard Home, published an account of the illness (1794) together with the post mortem findings from John Hunter, which disclosed marked coronary atheroma and scars in the cardiac muscle tissue, indicative of myocardial infarction (heart attack).

The first description of acute myocardial infarction was made by Obraztsov and Strazhesko in 1910. They noticed in their observation in 5 patients that the infarction was precipitated by direct events most related to physical or emotional stress. The infarction began in one case on climbing a high staircase, in another during an unpleasant conversation, and in a third during emotional distress associated with a heated card game. (Read: Expert tips to reduce stress and keep your heart healthy)

The idea that stress can increase the risk of heart attack is so popular that it is seen by many people as a fact, reverberated by phrases incorporated in folk wisdom, such as 'scared to death' and 'a broken heart'. Stress is generally regarded as the cause of heart attack by the survivors and their close relatives. Opinion surveys have shown that 9 in 10 adults believe that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.

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However, the cardiologic community still claims that smoking, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and dyslipidemia are risk factors much more important for the development of heart disease than stress. Although studies show that most of these risk factors are associated to autonomic dysfunction with sympathetic nervous system activation and elevation of stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline). (Read: Feeling stressed? Try these natural remedies)

As a result many cardiologists do not dedicate much of their time listening to complaints from their coronary patients, about the daily stress they face. Additionally, most cardiologists are usually inclined to focus their attention to technical solutions'. (Read: Feeling stressed? Join an outdoor walking group)

Photo source: Getty images

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