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Prevent Stress-Related Heart Problems

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Updated November 13, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Most physicians are now convinced that emotional stress, under certain circumstances, can play a role in the development of chronic heart disease, and even in the precipitation of acute cardiac crises. If you are experiencing certain types of emotional stress and are reacting to it negatively, you should be concerned about preventing stress-related heart problems. While preventing all forms of stress is neither possible nor desirable, there are still many things you can do to reduce your risk of stress-related heart problems.

First, try to identify any specific situations in your life that cause you to experience particularly severe stress, and avoid, alter or limit those situations as much as is feasible.

Second, learn some effective stress management techniques. This is particularly important since it's our reaction to emotional stress that is the important factor in determining whether stress is increasing our cardiac risk. Essentially, you need to learn new responses to stressful situations, so that your fight-or-flight adrenaline surge is not automatically engaged at the first sign of trouble. Stress management programs have demonstrated measurable success in accomplishing this end.

Stress management programs often consist of breathing exercises, stretching exercises, aerobic exercises, visualization techniques, Yoga, meditation, and/or massage. All of these programs aim toward the same goal –- to blunt the adrenaline response to minor stresses. If you explore all the options, you are sure to find one or two approaches that will suit you. Take this step seriously and make it a priority.

Third, pay close attention to all of your cardiac risk factors, and do whatever you can to control your cardiac risk.

And fourth, use your doctor as a resource for suggestions on stress management and overall risk factor control. You may also want to discuss with your doctor whether you should take prophylactic aspirin -- which has been shown to reduce the risk of plaque rupture in people with significant emotional stress.

Sources:

Denollet, J, Brutsaert, DL. Reducing emotional distress improves prognosis in coronary heart disease: 9-year mortality in a clinical trial of rehabilitation. Circulation 2001; 104:2018.

Friedman, M, Breall, WS, Goodwin, ML, et al. Effect of type A behavioral counseling on frequency of episodes of silent myocardial ischemia in coronary patients. Am Heart J 1996; 132:933.

Mittleman, MA, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, et al. Triggering of acute myocardial infarction onset by episodes of anger. Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Circulation 1995; 92:1720.

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