The COVID-19 health pandemic has added more stress to our lives, but it may also be putting more stress on our hearts, even for those who don’t have a pre-existing condition.
“Studies have linked events such as bereavement, loss of a job, and depression with major, life-threatening events such as a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest,” notes Dr. Jeannette Yuen, a cardiologist with Scarsdale Medical Group/White Plains Hospital. “But daily stress can also lead to slower developing conditions that can affect overall short-term and long-term health.”
If you have been experiencing a lot of stress lately, common symptoms to look for include chest pain, dizziness, sweating, and shortness of breath, which may be contributing to the following conditions:
Extreme stress can lead to a condition called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, also known as “broken heart syndrome,” which is more commonly seen in women. During an emotionally stressful event, the heart is overwhelmed by a rush of adrenaline and inflammatory hormones. This temporarily weakens the heart, rendering it unable to pump blood efficiently, while other parts of the organ continue to work just as hard or harder. Additionally, there is a risk of heart muscle failure – presenting as chest pain or shortness of breath. “Luckily, this condition is treatable and mostly reversible,” says Dr. Yuen. “Finding strategies to help cope with the reaction to the traumatic event will help lessen the source of stress on the heart.”
When the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood, the result is chest pain or “angina” – your heart’s way of telling you it needs more oxygen to function properly. When you become angry or stressed, your blood pressure goes up and hormone surges can narrow the arteries. Left untreated, angina and the constant deprivation of oxygen and blood flow to the heart could result in a heart attack in some cases.
Additionally, chronic stress and depression can also worsen arteriosclerosis, a condition that occurs when plaque causes spasms and clogs your arteries. Depression can also lead to less motivation to exercise and eating more comfort foods, worsening cholesterol levels and contributing even more to the condition.
If chronic stress has seeped into your life lately, talk to your primary care physician or cardiologist about diagnosing and treating a possible heart condition. Incorporating some of these calming strategies into your day can take a load off your heart as well, says Dr. Yuen:
If you are experiencing sudden symptoms such as chest pain or pressure; pain in the back, arm or jaw; shortness of breath; or a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness, it’s important to call 911 right away so you can be evaluated and treated.
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