Can stress cause a heart attack?

This year, more than 700,000 people in the United States will have a heart attack. And you already know that unhealthy habits like smoking, being inactive and poor diet choices can harm your heart and raise your risk of a heart attack. But how much do you know about other causes? For example, major life events like losing a loved one and going through a divorce can also lead to a heart attack. Even getting upset about work or having an angry outburst can trigger one.

The reason can be summed up in a single word: stress. And it happens more often than you might think:

  • A 2016 study of more than 12,400 people found that 14.4% had been angry or upset an hour before their heart attack symptoms started.
  • A 2015 study revealed that divorced women were more likely to have a heart attack than married women. And after two divorces, their risk nearly doubled.
  • And, believe it or not, a 2013 study found an increase in heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths days after the Super Bowl in football fans of the losing team.


Giving your heart a beating

Stress is your body’s response to a perceived threat. When it’s present, your body is flooded with hormones including adrenaline. When your adrenaline is high, your heart’s blood-clotting mechanisms ramp up and it beats faster. Plaque can build up in your coronary arteries as your heart tries to handle the extra workload. This in turn can result in a clot, blocking the flow of blood and triggering a heart attack.

And the trigger isn’t always a sudden stressful event or outburst either. Continued release of stress hormones over time can create injury to the wall of the blood vessel, potentially leading to a heart attack.


Take the stress off your ticker

Just as you take healthy steps to safeguard your heart like getting the rest you need, eating well, staying active and not smoking, you must also work to protect your heart from too much stress. Here are a few techniques to consider:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis
  • Yoga
  • Breathing exercises

There are several free meditation apps that can help you reach your well-being goals – whether it’s lowering stress, sleeping better or finding more focus. Take some time to experiment and find the stress management techniques that work best for you. Your heart is worth it.


Don’t let stress harm your heart – or your health

Get more tips to tame your stress on our Stress Management Pinterest page.