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    Heart Failure and Stress Management

    If you have heart failure, your heart hasn’t failed, but it's weaker than normal. It could be for one of several reasons, like coronary disease or chemotherapy.

    How does stress affect it? This is still debated, but doctors worry that it could make you sicker.

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    What Stress Does to You

    Stress triggers a chemical tsunami in your body. You may have heard it called the “fight or flight” reaction. Humans could not have survived without such a powerful response to stress. Among other changes, adrenaline and other hormones speed your heart rate and breathing and raise blood sugar levels.

    This reaction makes your heart require extra oxygen and energy to allow you to, say, run from a tiger.

    Problem is, the body isn’t made to bathe in stress hormones over the long haul. For example, increased stress has been associated with a higher chance of dying. The relationship may be even stronger among people with weakened hearts.

    Some have argued a relationship between heart failure and a hormone called cortisol, the "stress hormone." One study found that people with heart failure and high levels of cortisol at night had about three times the risk of dying within 18 months as people who had less cortisol.

    Keep in mind, however, that stress is a complex thing and not entirely understood.

    Since having a serious medical issue often causes stress, it’s not clear which comes first. And some of the effects of it on the heart may have other causes. For example, people who are stressed may not eat healthy, exercise, or take their medications like they are supposed to. These are some of the reasons studies haven’t been consistent.

    For example, a 2014 study found no connection between their stress levels and  survival. It cautioned that, even among people without heart failure, “the overall picture presented by the literature is one of conflicting findings.”

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