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Be Careful – Stress Can Hurt Your Heart Health

While your body's stress response is designed for protection, but continuous stress can evolve into a threat, potentially affecting your heart health
Heart can be affected in many ways, some influencers can be good for your health and many can damage your heart. One of the negative influential activities that can silently impact your heart health is that old enemy called Stress. It may seem that the stress you are getting every day is just a normal day’s life but it’s like a slow poison that can build up with time and be calamitous to your heart health like heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, or stroke.

What happens when we are stressed?

When the body comes under stressful conditions it starts working in response to that situation and in the process it releases hormones that deal with stressful events and protect the human body so that the impact of stress will be minimal.
Take an example when you have almost met with an accident but somehow you managed to dodge it with an instant reflex of jumping out of the way. In stressful situations, your body instantly triggers your memory, heartbeat, vision, and blood flow and puts you in alert mode so that you can be quick in your response. But have you ever thought about what happened so fast that suddenly you turned into superhuman and narrowly escaped the accident, so the answer is it’s the release of stress hormones.
Our body releases stress hormones called epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, and norepinephrine when dealing with an episode of acute stress, a situation that occurs within an instant, like dodging a car accident.
  • Adrenaline – It increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and increases energy supplies.
  • Cortisol – It floods the bloodstream with glucose and narrows the arteries.
  • Norepinephrine – It raises the heart rate, releases glucose into the bloodstream, and increases blood flow to the muscles.
So you must be thinking, if these hormones are good for me then how they will affect my heart health?
Yes, stress hormone release is good for you but only till the time their production is not abnormal. Release of these hormones is a natural body process when in stressful situations and designed to protect our body, but if an individual stays under stress day after day and for a long then these stress hormones will be released nonstop in your body and will start acting negatively towards your health. Chronic stress is directly proportional to bad heart health and overall cardiovascular systems.

There are three main types of stress

Acute Stress
Acute stress is immediate short-term stress that arises from unexpected situations or stressors. For example, hearing bad news from family, having a conflict with a colleague, or missing a work deadline can induce acute stress. Due to the uncertainty or unpredictability of acute stress, it can range from mild to highly intense, dispensing inconvenience, worry, loss, or a jolting experience. Acute stress could be for a few minutes, or hours and be followed with aftershocks or repercussions. The stay time of stress is very much dependent on how significant the event was.
Chronic Stress
In contrast to acute stress, chronic stress is continuous or deeply rooted, persisting over time. It can manifest as both physiological and psychological stress. Physical stressors like body pain, illness, or chronic fatigue can be addressed with rest and medical guidance. However, people often grapple with psychological stress, indicating persistent emotional and mental strain. This subjective response arises when environmental or internal demands surpass a person’s perceived ability to cope.
Various factors, including discrimination, work pressure, relationship issues, marital problems, financial concerns, health challenges, and life changes, contribute to chronic psychological stress. These persistent stressors are endured over the long term, can consistently occupy your thoughts, and become ingrained in your daily life. While stress response is vital for survival in acute situations, prolonged exposure to chronic stress can have inimical effects on your health.
Episodic Stress
Episodic stress refers to frequent and recurring stress, such as experiencing stress every time you have a meeting with your boss. It is triggered by specific situations or factors that consistently bother you. Episodic stress tends to be repetitive, occurring whenever similar situations arise. Recognizing these triggers is beneficial, as it allows you to develop strategies to counteract and manage stress effectively, promoting a more stress-free existence.

Stress-related cardiovascular complications

Long-term stressors have been found to contribute to various alterations in cardiac regulation and a high risk of cardiovascular mortality. When stress hormones are released in the body for prolonged times they can trigger the regular higher demand for oxygen in the body, spasms in the heart’s blood vessels, and an interruption in electrical impulses, due to which many cardiovascular complications start to develop and appear physically.

Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm, where the heart beats with an irregular pattern, too fast or too slowly. Arrhythmia can be caused by many underlying medical conditions, natural aging is also one of the factors but the disorder can be worsened if you are under continuous stress and choosing wrong lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol consumption, recreational drugs, obesity, and others. Our heart relies on electrical impulses to keep it beating at a steady pace, arrhythmias occur when there are abnormalities in the generation, conduction, or coordination of these electrical impulses. The defective electrical impulses may affect the heart rate by causing a slow beat, fast beat, excessively fast beat, or even a skipped beat. Uncontrolled rapid arrhythmia episodes can result in loss of contraction of the heart, heart weakness, and damaged heart over time.

Heart palpitations

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing the heart rate to rise. Heart palpitation is a short-lived feeling when your heartbeat becomes more noticeable, it’s a feeling of a racing heart, fluttering, thumping, or pounding in your chest. They usually go away after the stress-causing situation passes but long-term stress-related heart palpitations can be alarming and concerning to your heart health if they are accompanied by symptoms like chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, hyper anxiety, and unusual sweating. Recurrent episodes of heart palpitations are often a signal of arrhythmia.

Chest pain

Due to a rise in heart rate and blood pressure during chronic stress, many people experience a mild, sudden, constant, or intense tightness in the chest. Making it difficult to breathe or having a feeling that the heart is beating out of the chest. For example, “Borken heart syndrome”, can be triggered in events like the death of a loved one or a sudden breakup. This type of intense or extreme emotional stress can be a cause of temporary heart muscle failure, similar to a heart attack. This heart dysfunction or stunning of the heart generally recovers as a surge of stress hormones comes back to normal.

Breath shortness

Shortness of breath is called dyspnea, it’s a sensation that is described as not getting enough air or a feeling of suffocation. When in acute or chronic stress heart rate increases to pump blood to the organs faster, causing a person to breathe more quickly to provide more oxygen to the muscles. This can cause breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing often followed by anxiety and feelings of panic.

High blood pressure

Stress can cause hypertension through repeated blood pressure elevations as well as by stimulation of the nervous system to produce large amounts of vasoconstricting hormones that increase blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the force of blood through your arteries and can damage artery walls. Even minor stress can trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart muscle.

Ejection Fraction

The ejection fraction (EF) is a measurement that indicates the percentage of blood pumped out of the heart’s left ventricle with each contraction. It is an important indicator of heart function, reflecting how well the heart is pumping blood to meet the body’s needs. Stress, especially when prolonged or chronic, can have an impact on the heart’s ejection fraction. Chronic stress may contribute to changes in heart function over time with alterations in the heart’s pumping ability.

Elevated blood sugar

When stressed body Insulin levels fall, glucagon and norepinephrine levels rise, and more glucose is available in the bloodstream. Unexpected peaks in blood glucose levels for the long term negatively impact and can cause insulin resistance that leads to diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart, having diabetes means you are more likely to develop heart disease.

Blockage in arteries

Arteries, a critical part of your cardiovascular system, are the blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the tissues of the body. Stress disorders have been linked to changes in the vascular endothelium that have been implicated in inflammation, blood clots, and the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease. Stress may contribute to the progression of atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries), leading to reduced blood flow to the heart.

Other physiological impacts of stress

Headache, anxiety, overeating or undereating, muscle tension or pain, restlessness, angry outbursts, lack of motivation or focus, drug or alcohol misuse, weight gain, sleeplessness, and anxiety.

Wrapping Up

If you’re often stressed and you don’t have good ways to manage it then for sure in the long run, you are more likely to have heart-related diseases like irregular heart rate and rhythm, increased blood pressure, heart inflammation, and reduced blood flow to the heart. If you experience persistent chest pain, palpitations, dry mouth, headaches, odd pains, feeling dizzy or sick, or tiredness, don’t wait and get a thorough checkup until it’s too late.

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