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Stressing Your Heart Out? CareMount Doctor Explains Cardiac Correlation

Dr. Richard Keating of CareMount Medical.
Dr. Richard Keating of CareMount Medical. Photo Credit: CareMount Medical

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Nobody likes feeling stressed. Not only does it make us feel not ourselves, according to CareMount Medical's Dr. Richard Keating, it can set off a chain of damaging physical and emotional effects. 

Heart disease is the top killer of both men and women, claiming more than 600,000 lives annually. While cardiac abnormalities can be triggered by a variety of factors, scientists are discovering that stress can play a role in developing deadly heart disease.

"Stress comes in two main forms: acute and chronic," said Keating. "During sudden stress, the body produces a surge of adrenaline that causes breathing and heart rates to increase. This can be very dangerous for the heart." In some instances, this rush can trigger a heart attack.

Chronic stress is a more gradual build, but can cause unhealthy heart conditions to develop over time. "Lasting stress can cause our bodies to produce too much adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related hormones on a regular basis," said Keating. "These hormones can constrict blood vessels, triggering high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease."

Both chronic and acute stress can trigger an impulse to eat, often unhealthily. Consuming high-fat, processed foods and sweets can lead to obesity and high cholesterol levels, which both strain the heart. According to Keating, the same goes for drinking and smoking. "A glass or two of wine is fine once in awhile, but stress is known to provoke people to drink too much," he said. "Excess alcohol can also raise dangerous fats in the blood and increase blood pressure, while smoking causes heart disease by damaging blood vessels."

Keating also cautions against a lack of exercise. "Often times, the last thing people want to do when they're stressed is exercise," he said. "However, the damaging effects of inactivity include high blood pressure, obesity and other major cardiac risk factors."

In order to minimize heart hazards related to stress, it’s important to tackle the root of the stress and eliminate any unhealthy habits stemming from it. In addition to eating properly, exercising and avoiding smoking and excess drinking, stress management classes can also help cope ensure a healthy heart.