Stress Stresses the Heart

Study offers new insight about cumulative effect on cardiovascular disease

FRIDAY, March 5, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The cumulative effect of daily mental and emotional stresses reduces the heart's ability to respond appropriately to the outside world.

That claim was made by Duke University Medical Center researchers during a presentation March 4 at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Orlando, Fla.

This finding could help explain the mechanism behind recognized links between heart disease and mental stress. The study results also emphasize the importance of exercise and stress-reduction techniques in maintaining a healthy environment for the heart.

For 48 hours, the Duke researchers continually monitored the heart electrical activity of 135 people with coronary artery disease. They found higher levels of negative emotions were strongly associated with a reduction in the ability of the heart to respond to negative emotions and stress.

"While we have known that emotional stresses have been linked to the development and progression of coronary artery disease, it has not been clear why this is so," researcher Simon Bacon says in a prepared statement.

Previous research found mental stress can negatively affect the autonomic control over the heart. Autonomic control is the reflexive control of heart action.

"What we have shown for the first time, using detailed cardiac measurements during everyday life, is that such negative emotions as anger, stress or sadness were associated with a reduction in autonomic control of the heart. These findings may help explain how acute stress may contribute to the increased risk of clinical events in patients with coronary artery disease," Bacon says.

More information

The National Mental Health Association has more about coping with stress.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 4, 2004
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