THURSDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- People who think stress is
affecting their health may be setting themselves up for a heart
attack, a new study contends.
The researchers found that these people had double the risk of a
heart attack compared with people who didn't think stress was
harming their health.
"People's perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct," said study author Hermann Nabi, a senior research associate at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at INSERM in Villejuif, France.
"They may need to take actions when they feel that it is the case," he added.
These findings have both clinical and theoretical implications,
"From a clinical perspective, they suggest that complaints of adverse impact of stress on health should not be ignored in clinical settings as they may indicate increased risk of developing coronary heart disease," he said.
From a theoretical perspective, the findings imply that the
perceived impact of stress on health is a valid concept that should
be considered in future studies aimed at examining the association
between stress and health outcomes, Nabi added.
The report was published June 27 in the online edition of the
European Heart Journal.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University
of California, Los Angeles, said that "stress and reactions to
stressful situations have been associated with increased risk of
cardiovascular disease in many studies."
However, few studies have looked at whether an individual's
perception of stress is associated with cardiovascular outcomes, he
And it's not clear if reducing stress would affect the risk for
heart attack, Fonarow said.
"Further studies are needed to determine whether stress reduction or other risk reduction strategies can reduce cardiovascular events in men and women who perceive they are under stress that is adversely impacting their health," he said.
For the study, Nabi's team collected data on more than 7,000 men
and women who took part in the Whitehall II study, which has
followed London-based civil servants since 1985.
Participants were asked how much they felt that stress or
pressure in their lives had affected their health. Based on their
answers, they were placed into one of three groups: "not at all,"
"slightly or moderately," or "a lot or extremely."
Participants were also asked about their levels of stress and
other lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, diet and
The researchers also collected medical information, such as
blood pressure, diabetes status and weight, and other data,
including marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic
Over 18 years of follow-up, there were 352 heart attacks or
deaths from heart attack.
After taking all of these factors into account, the
investigators found those who said their health was a "lot or
extremely" affected by stress had more than double the risk of a
heart attack compared with those who said stress had no effect on
After further adjustments for biological, behavioral and other
psychological risk factors -- including stress levels and measures
of social support -- the risk wasn't as high. But it was still a
lot higher (49 percent higher) than among those who said stress
didn't affect their health, the researchers noted.
While the study found an association between perceived levels of
stress and heart attack, it did not prove cause-and-effect.
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone
Medical Center in New York City, offered some tips on dealing with
The stress response is not only a mental reaction to a
situation, but a physiological reaction, she explained.
"Acute and chronic stress over time can make us sick. Our perception of how that stress affects our health may be an additional stressor biochemically, psychologically and physiologically, creating a feedback loop that results in increased physical distress and disease," Heller said.
Managing stress does not mean ignoring it, she said. "Working
with a qualified mental health professional who specializes in
cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful. In lieu of that,
there are some things you can do on your own."
For more on stress and your heart, visit the
American Heart Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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