Stressed-out people have more than double the risk of having a heart attack, compared to their non-stressed counterparts, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal.
Furthermore, a patient’s perception of their stress levels may even predict their risk for a heart attack years down the road.
For the study, lead researcher Herman Nabi and his team gave questionnaires to 7,268 participants who thought of themselves as stressed, in order to determine whether there was a link between their stressful feelings and the occurrence of coronary disease some years later.
The participants were asked to answer the following question: “To what extent do you consider the stress or pressure that you have experienced in your life to have affected your health?” The participants had the following answers to choose from: “not at all,” “a little,” “moderately,” “a lot” or “extremely.”
The participants were also asked questions about their stress levels, as well as other factors that might affect their health—such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and levels of physical activity. Arterial pressure, diabetes, body mass index and socio-demographic data such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic status were also taken into account.
According to the findings, the participants who reported, at the beginning of the study, that their health was “a lot” or “extremely” affected by stress had more than twice the risk (2.12 times higher) of having or dying from a heart attack, compared with those who had not reported any effect of stress on their health.
These results suggest that a patient’s perception of the impact of stress on their health may be highly accurate, so much so that it could predict a health event as serious as coronary disease.
Furthermore, the results also show that this link is not affected by differences between individuals related to biological, behavioral or psychological factors.
However, the ability to handle stress correctly strongly differs between individuals, depending on the resources available to them, such as support from close friends and family.
“The main message is that complaints from patients concerning the effect of stress on their health should not be ignored in a clinical environment, because they may indicate an increased risk of developing and dying of coronary disease. Future studies of stress should include perceptions of patients concerning the effect of stress on their health,” said Nabi.
“Tests will be needed to determine whether the risk of disease can be reduced by increasing the clinical attention given to patients who complain of stress having an effect on their health.”