Studies Highlight How Stress Can Affect Your Heart Health

“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”

I can think of younger days when living for my life
was everything a man could want to do.
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.

Barry and Robin Gibb, 1970

It is almost 43 years ago that Barry and Robin Gibb penned the words to their still popular love song, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”  Do you remember it? We thought of this song today as a number of news outlets are discussing the effects that stress and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have on one’s heart health.

American College of Cardiology met in San Francisco

This past weekend the American College of Cardiology met in San Francisco. The focus of this conference was discovery to delivery. At this conference a number of studies were discussed, but perhaps the ones that garnered the most attention of the press were those that dealt with what stress can do to the heart.  For example, new studies have found higher rates of cardiac problems in New Orleans residents six years post Hurricane Katrina, Greek citizens dealing with their country’s financial difficulties and veterans diagnosed with PTSD. According to an Associated Press report:

‘Disasters and prolonged stress can raise “fight or flight” hormones that affect blood pressure, blood sugar and other things in ways that make heart trouble more likely, doctors say. They also provoke anger and helplessness and spur heart-harming behaviors like eating or drinking too much.’

Highlights of studies

  • Hurricane Katrina survivors: Doctors at Tulane Medical Center studied their patients who presented with heart attacks. The incidence of heart
    attacks is three times higher in New Orleans than it was in the two years before the 2005 Katrina Hurricane. Post Katrina the heart attack patients were more likely to be uninsured, unemployed, and also were more likely to smoke and/or suffer from depression, anxiety, or high cholesterol. 
  • Messina, Greece: In 2008 Greece started to experience the beginning of their financial crisis. Researchers have now found that heart attacks rose sharply since January 2008, with one major hospital treating 1084 heart attack patients in the past four years, as opposed to 841 heart attack patients in the four previous years. Additionally, heart attack incidence was up 40% among women.
  • California and Nevada veterans: This study examined the records of 207,954 veterans located in California and Nevada. These veterans were 46 to 74 years old, some with a PTSD diagnosis and some without. Their 2009 and 2010 medical records were clear of heart disease and diabetes. Two years later 35% of those with PTSD as compared to only 19% of those without PTSD had developed insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes and hardening of the arteries.

Going forward…

According to HealthDay reporter Randy Dotinga: “While the studies don’t prove that stress caused people’s hearts to give out, they do suggest a link, experts say.” Mr. Dotinga also points out that these studies are preliminary and have yet to go through the peer-review process; however, as one study author, Dr. Anand Irimpen,
associate professor of medicine at Tulane University Heart and Vascular
Institute in New Orleans offered: “Whenever a major disaster hits a city, everybody thinks of rebuilding.
That’s all everybody thinks of. It’s also important to pay attention to
the health of the community.”

Perhaps we don’t even have to look at a community-wide disaster for stress related heart health risks. We might only look at an individual who has experienced personal stress resulting from such things as the loss of a loved one, unemployment or a family member’s acute illness or chronic disease.

Just for today, take a break and enjoy the Bee Gees singing “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

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