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Stress takes a toll on the human heart

March 30, 2009

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Anxiety, depression and stress caused by work and the economy are unhealthful in their own right; they’re also hard on the ticker. Some of the evidence:

• Depression, anxiety, chronic life stress and high blood pressure all raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.

• Stress, high blood pressure and smoking are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Job pressure and excessive work hours led to increased smoking among men in a study of 1,101 Australian workers.

• A 33 percent to 40 percent increase in systolic blood pressure was reported among white-collar Canadian workers with high levels of cumulative work stress.

• A direct link between psychological distress and poor cardiovascular health was found in a study of 6,576 Scottish men and women. Risk of heart disease and death rose by more than 50 percent among people with depression and anxiety. Smoking accounted for 41 percent of the risk; high blood pressure was responsible for an additional 13 percent.

• Almost double the risk of heart attack or death was found in coronary-artery-disease patients with the highest levels of anxiety. Among those patients, a 10 percent increased risk of heart attack or death was found in those whose anxiety rose over time.

• Among 735 older men (average age 60), the 15 percent identified as most anxious had a 30 percent to 40 percent increased risk of heart attack. The higher the degree of anxiety, the higher the risk — even when age, blood pressure, cholesterol and other factors were taken into account.

• Anger and hostility prompt behavioral changes — such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise — that increase the risk of cardiovascular events. A 19 percent rise in risk was found among those described as otherwise healthy, and a 23 percent increase was found in those who already had heart disease.

Sources: 1999 study in Circulation; 2008 essay published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2007 study in American Journal of Industrial Medicine; 2006 study in American Journal of Public Health; 2008 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2007 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2008 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2009 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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