A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Stress and your heart: What you should know

Persistent stress isn’t good for us, but can it cause heart trouble? The answer to that question remains unclear.

“An actual direct link between moderate daily stress and heart disease requires more research,” said Jon-Paul Ciszewski, a certified physician assistant in cardiology at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “But it is understood that stress can contribute to risk factors of heart disease since people often cope with stress in unhealthy ways such as smoking and eating unhealthy food.”

Two middle-aged women laughing on a park bench - Stress and your heart health

Finding healthy ways to cope with stress is important for your mental and heart health.

Extreme stress is different

It is possible to experience immediate heart symptoms in the event of extreme stress, for instance from the death of a loved one or a car crash. Extreme stress can cause a condition known as stress cardiomyopathy, which results in a temporary reduction of heart function.

Some also refer to this condition as “broken heart syndrome,” and it can present in a similar way to a traditional heart attack. The major difference between broken heart syndrome and a heart attack is that typically there is no sign of blocked arteries with broken heart syndrome.

Healthy ways to cope

You can deal with stress in a number of positive ways and help your heart in the process.

“Incorporate more exercise into your schedule and make an effort to get an appropriate amount of sleep each night,” Ciszewski said. “If stress is really having a negative effect then you could consider speaking with your primary care physician or seeing a behavioral health professional for additional stress reduction techniques.”

Using meditation and mindfulness techniques also can help you lower stress levels.

“In general, the best advice is to make sure you aren’t coping with stress in unhealthy ways,” Ciszewski said. “Smoking, drinking too much, or stress eating are common ways people deal with stress, and they are all bad for your heart.”

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