A new study suggests that high stress can negatively affect your heart. Learn about the connection between high stress levels and the heart.
According to a study in Hypertension, having high stress levels can result in strokes and heart attacks. The study consisted of 412 adult participants without hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Researchers measured their stress hormone levels and found that the risk rose by 21% to 31% with each doubling. Moreover, in an 11.2 year median follow-up period, 5.8% of participants had cardiovascular events like heart attacks.
“The stress hormones norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, and cortisol can increase with stress from life events, work, relationships, finances, and more,” says lead study author Kosuke Inoue, MD, Ph.D. Inoue is an epidemiologist at Kyoto University in Japan and at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Stress and the Heart
According to the study, younger adults had a stronger connection between cortisol and dopamine levels and hypertension than older participants. Previous studies also link elevated dopamine levels and cortisol levels to high blood pressure.
Moreover, psychological stress has also been associated with a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular events. In fact, one study shows that high levels of stress due to their work and personal lives increase cardiovascular risk.
However, according to Inoue, earlier studies focusing on psychological stress and cardiovascular disease lack objective measures of stress levels. “It is challenging to study psychosocial stress since it is personal, and its impact varies for each individual,” says Inoue.
The Current Study
While the other studies lack objective measures, this particular study uses urine tests to objectively assess stress levels. Still, this study only measured urinary stress hormones at a single moment in time, and these levels may have shifted. If so, they may have influenced the risk of developing high blood pressure or cardiovascular events.
Furthermore, the study doesn’t make it clear whether urine tests make sense as a way to screen for heart risk. “Currently, these hormones are measured only when hypertension with an underlying cause or other related diseases are suspected,” says Inoue. “However, if additional screening could help prevent hypertension and cardiovascular events, we may want to measure these hormone levels more frequently.”
According to James Stahl, MD, MPH, more research is necessary to determine who might benefit from measuring urinary stress hormones. Meanwhile, the focus should be on improving your stress levels so they don’t affect you any which way. “As to what people can do about it: change their work conditions, enroll in a stress management program, exercise, eat well, and strengthen their social network,” says Stahl.
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