The research, presented at the 18th Annual Congress of the South African Heart Association, looked at 212 individuals – half of whom were heart attack patients with the rest as a control group – in Johannesburg, South Africa. Participants completed a questionnaire about depression, anxiety, stress, work stress and financial stress. The compared responses shed some light on how much mental health may play into physical wellness.
It’s no secret stress can be a large factor in many health problems, but a study has shown the extent to which it can hurt your heart.
For example, the risk of a heart attack tripled if a patient had experienced any level of depression from mild to extremely severe in the previous month compared to those with no depression.
Both work and financial stress seemed to be shared experiences for many of the patients, as well. The heart attack patients frequently self-reported stress, with 96 percent reporting any level of stress and 40 percent reporting severe stress levels. Patients who said they faced moderate or severe work stress were 5.6 times more likely to have a heart attack.
For financial stress, patients were graded on a scale:
- No financial stress if they were coping financially
- Mild financial stress if they were coping financially but needed added support
- Moderate financial stress if they had an income but were in financial distress
- Significant financial stress if they had no income and struggled to meet basic needs at times
Most startlingly, patients with significant financial stress had a 13-fold higher odds of having a heart attack.
One author of the study said patients should be asked about stress, depression or anxiety during general physical exams more frequently, comparing it to whether or not a patient smoked. Then, health care providers could give resources for stress management, just as they would on how to quit smoking.
Anne Lipira, a registered cardiac rehabilitation nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., says she knows many of her patients who have had heart attacks report high levels of stress.
“Stress is a known major risk factor for heart disease and cardiac events, and financial worries are certainly at the top of the list for some people,” she says.
Due to the connection between stress and heart disease, Lipira says it’s important for cardiac rehab patients to work on stress-reducing techniques in addition to strengthening their heart through exercise.
Lipira advises her patients practice deep breathing, mindful meditation and positive thinking.
“Since stress is everywhere, it is important to know that how you react to stress can really make a difference,” she says. “There will always be stress in your life, but managing your responses to it can go a long way toward making sure you stay healthy.”