Stress- were all aware of the feeling- overburdened, overwhelmed, and at times ready to pull our hair out. Yet, can it really be damaging physically? Can it lead to heart trouble?
A recent heart patient illustrates this question. John, a middle-aged man with a ruddy complexion and large eyes, had been admitted to the hospital on my cardiology practice because of terrible pains that gripped his chest. The pain was in fact a heart attack, quite a large one.
Oddly, he possessed no real risk factors for heart disease. He didn’t smoke, have high blood pressure, or admit to a family history of heart disease. Even his cholesterol was normal.
After taking a detailed history, the only thing I could come up with as a cause of his heart attack was stress. His dog, the only real thing in life he cherished, had recently died. He wasn’t married, and didn’t have children. Even his parents were gone. His pet golden retriever had recently been hit by a car.
His grief following the loss was so encompassing, so burdensome that it had created an anvil like weight across his chest. When the pain became unbearable he’d scurried to the Emergency Department.
Is it possible that stress alone- in this case overwhelming grief, can cause actual heart disease?
All of us are familiar with the stress of modern day living. With both adults frequently working, the typical American family must juggle shopping, work, kid’s activities, and a host of other essential tasks. It isn’t unusual to rise early, perform under pressure for long hours at work and then come home to face even more duties.
The constant and seemingly endless hectic pace can numb the body and the mind. Such stress is all too familiar, but can it actually lead to illness? Can it truly be bad for your heart?
A publication in the British Medical Journal has given undeniable proof that stress is indeed harmful to our heart health. They followed hundreds of research participants for up to seven years and found that people who had subjective feelings of being “over burdened” at work, or performed repetitive activities with no chance for advancement- these people developed nearly three times the heart disease as people who didn’t have this type of stress.
They also found that the chances of suffering a life ending heart attack were also 2-3 times higher.
So what can we do about the feeling of being, “overwhelmed,” or “not being able to take it any more?” Is there hope for hearts that are crying?
The answer is “Yes.” You don’t have to become a medical statistic and suffer a heart attack because of stress.
The first step for avoiding this tragedy is to acknowledge your troublesome feelings. Recognize that you are exhausted or have difficulty.
Next, seek help. One of the reasons I’ve created this web site is to provide a resource for who people with psychological and emotional difficulties.