Heart Disease

How Emotional Stress Affects the Heart | Visualized Health

Reviewed by The Clinical Committee

April 16, 2019

  • Emotional stress damages your heart and your health.

  • New research shows significantly higher risks of heart attack and stroke after psychiatric diagnoses from stressful life events.

  • PTSD was the most damaging stress-related disorder.

Emotional Stress and Heart Disease Risk

Emotional Stress and Heart Disease Risk

Figure 1: Emotional Stress and Heart Disease Risk. Stress-related psychological disorders were linked to significantly higher risks of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Individuals who have a stress related disorder have a 1.34x risk of heart attack, 1.75x risk of stroke, and 2.15x risk of high blood pressure. These data were collected from 130,000 Swedish patients and 170,000 of their siblings as controls. Bar lengths are scaled to hazard ratios.

Emotionally stressful and traumatic events damage the psyche. New research shows that it may damage the heart as well. In the best study so far on this topic, scientists estimate that a stress-related psychiatric disorder may increase the rate of heart attacks by 34%, stroke by 75%, and high blood pressure by over 100%.

Scientists studied over 130,000 patients in Sweden who had a stress-related psychiatric disorder, including Acute Stress Reaction, Adjustment Disorder, or PTSD, to see how these affect heart disease risk.

They compared these patients to 170,000 of their siblings who did not have a stress-related condition. This allowed for a much higher quality study as siblings are expected to have much of the same genetics and upbringings.

Of note, while stroke affects the brain, the mechanisms behind it are similar to that of a heart attack. Risk factors for stroke often affect heart attack risk as well.

Source: Stress, psychiatric disorders, and cardiovascular disease

Psychiatry and Heart Disease

Psychiatry and Heart Disease

Figure 2: Psychiatry and Heart Disease. PTSD, Adjustment Disorder, and Acute Stress Disorder were all associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Among these, disorders, PTSD is the most damaging to the heart with an associated 1.48x risk. This was significantly higher than Adjustment Disorder (1.33x risk) and Acute Stress Disorder (1.27x risk). These data were collected from 130,000 Swedish patients and 170,000 of their siblings as controls. Bar lengths are scaled to hazard rations.

Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment Disorder occurs when someone has difficulty adjusting to a challenging life event or circumstance. Symptoms include feeling sad, anxious, or worried. Individuals may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

In defining stress and stress disorders for this study, researchers looked at PTSD, adjustment disorder, and acute stress reaction.

These are psychiatric disorders that are related to a stressful life event or events. While PTSD has been studied in relation to heart disease, adjustment disorder and acute stress reaction have not.

Researchers found that PTSD, the most severe disorder of the 3, also had the most significant effect on heart disease. Patients with PTSD had a 48% higher risk of heart disease.

Acute Stress Reaction and Adjustment Disorders, which are both far more common than PTSD, were similarly associated with significantly increased risks of heart disease.

Source: Stress, psychiatric disorders, and cardiovascular disease

Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms and Diagnosis

Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms and Diagnosis

Figure 3: Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms and Diagnosis. Acute Stress Disorder is one of the most common stress-related disorders. It is a relatively short-term psychiatric disorder that is triggered by traumatic events. Common symptoms include recurring memories of the trauma, flashbacks, sleep issues, nightmares, poor mood, and irritability.

Acute Stress Disorder is one of the most common stress related disorders. While PTSD gets the most attention, acute stress disorder is far more prevalent.

Because it is poorly understood, we've created a brief summary above of the most common symptoms and features of this disease, and defined by the DSM.

Related Article: Antidepressants and Heart Attacks

Treating psychiatric disorders, such as stress-related PTSD, may bring benefits to mortality.

A new study found that depressed patients who were taking antidepressants had a significantly lower risk of heart attack.

Treating Depression May Reduce Heart Attack Risk

Read More Here: Treating Depression May Reduce Heart Attack Risk

Related Article: Sexual Violence and Health

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are two conditions that can lead to PTSD and other stress related disorders.

Sexual harassment has been linked to high blood pressure, similar to the effects of stress on heart health.

Sexual Harassment and Health Outcomes

Read More Here: The Effects of Sexual Violence on Health

Related Article: Heart Attack Progress

Heart attacks and strokes remain very serious causes of mortality around the world.

Fortunately, doctors are getting better at treating heart attacks. The worst hospitals of 2014 had better heart attack survival rates than the very best hospitals in the 90s.

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Heart Attack Mortality Trends

Full Article

Key Takeaways

Mental health often takes a backseat to physical health. However, as this and many other studies are showing, both are inextricably linked. Mental health disorders can and do affect mortality.

The scars of mental trauma are not just emotional, they can affect the heart and brain as well long after the event.

Fortunately, stress related disorders are treatable through medication and non-pharmacologic therapies.

If you or your loved ones are going through a stressful situation, don't be afraid to seek help. It could save your life.

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